Weekly Update: 11/15/2020

This’ll be a long-winded one (sorry). Last week’s City Council Meeting was, arguably, the most important of the year. There was the Budget, Property Taxes, Human Services spending and I got to be the one yelling at my colleagues (for a change) rather than just sitting there and taking it. And tucked in the DMMA thing is a presentation youย should watch. So… ya know… it’s a lot. ๐Ÿ˜€

This Week

Tuesday: Burien Airport Committee.

Wednesday: Have lunch with me at the Senior Center. Get an EATS voucher!

Wednesday: Highline Forum. There will be updates on SR-509 and the StART. Usually a snoozer, but who knows? ๐Ÿ˜€

Wednesday: Reach Out Des Moines. This group of education and youth professionals (including our DMPD Community Service Officer) meets to discuss ways to improve school attendance and reduce teen violence in Des Moines.

Thursday: PSRC Growth Management Policy Board There will be a presentation on housing needs in King County. I’ve already hinted at this a few times. It is critical to our City to understand the various demands that the PSRC foresees for our area in order to do our own planning. There are (cough) ‘targets’ each City is expected to meet.

Last Week

Tuesday: Port of Seattle regular Commission Meeting (Agenda) This meeting finalizes the 2021 Tax Levy. Their Budget proposed to increaseย  this item on your taxes by 3%, which I find outrageous given the pandemic. Here is my letter to the Commissionย in protest.

Wednesday: Des Moines Marina Association Meeting. The contents is actually a ‘State Of The City’ tag team presentation by Mayor Matt Pina and Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney. I strongly encourage everyone to watch it because it covers pretty much big area of the City (with plenty of questions re. the Marina at the very end.)

Thursday: Environmental Committee Meeting. The single item was the Storm Water Comprehensive Plan Update presentation, which I am quite interested in given the various infra-structure problems we’ve had over the past year. Here is the presentation: Surface Water Comp Plan Update

Thursday: City Council Meeting (Agenda) (Video). Recap below.

Thursday: Sound Cities Association ‘PIC’ Meeting. The Public Issues Committee is is always fascinating to me because you get to hear about what all the other Cities are dealing with, plus upcoming legislation from the State and Federal governments. It’s one of the best ways to get a sense of how other Cities function and how we all see our role in the region. Traci Buxton is our official representative.

A quick note on how Councilmember can help you…

If you watch the City Council Meetings or you are on-line, there is some confusion as to what/how a Councilmember may help a resident with a particular issue or a problem with the City itself. Here is what Council Rules Of Procedure Rule 32 says:

RULE 32. When administrative policy or administrative performance complaints are made directly to individual Councilmembers, the Councilmember may then refer the matter directly to the City Manager for his/her view and/or action. The individual Councilmember may request to be informed of the action or response made to the complaint. (Res. 525 ยง1, 1988).

So, if you contact me (or any Councilmember), we’ll refer it to the City Manager and his staff to deal with on your behalf. The advantage in bringing a problem to your Councilmember is in that last sentence: you get another (hopefully well-informed) set of eyes on the issue so we can make sure that you’re getting the best possible customer service. It also helps me/ us know what’s going on–which helps everybody. If you know the numbers? Contact the City directly. If you want to call me personally? I’m always happy to help. ๐Ÿ™‚

Meeting Recap

City Recap here. Full packet here. Video here.

Normally, I put in timings at the various points in the vide I’m referencing. I got lazy this week. These things are already work. But when I go on about making our web site more helpful to the public, here is just one thing I’d like to implement. When you look at a Burien Meeting Agenda, it has bookmarks to all the important moments in the video. That’s good public communication.

We passed the Budget.

Yay? ๐Ÿ˜€

The good news is that we got away this year without significant harm. That is no mean feat and I applaud the Finance team. Our City Manager, has told me that I don’t ‘appreciate them’. As a guy who worked for companies like Arthur Andersen, I’m probably the only person on the Council who fully appreciates their job. I salute them not only for keeping the City on track, but also because the basic day to day mechanics of finance and ‘bookkeeping’ are tough enough without having to screw with telecommuting. Thanks a million. (Get it? Million? I kill me. ๐Ÿ˜€ )

But I don’t want to be too super jazzed for a couple of reasons. First, we pulled this off by basically:

  • Holding off on any new capital improvement stuff. Which means we’re kinda losing not one but two years on a lot of very worthy projects. (On the other hand, with the repeal of I-976 we may be able to do some road stuff. Stay tuned.)
  • CARES Act funding. And who knows if there will ever be another Federal stimulus package. (Gosh I hope so, Ma. ๐Ÿ™‚ )
  • Using one-time money–which was the bane of the City in the bad old days. We voted to allow for it (if necessary) again in 2021. Hopefully it won’t be necessary. But I’ve made it clear that 2021 is the last year I’ll vote for that. *I’m sayin’ two Hail Marys and four Our Fathers every day that the local economy will be back by then. ๐Ÿ™‚

Is there anybody in there?

(Boomer reference to Pink Floyd) As I said, this was arguably the most important meeting of the year. And at 1:43 it was twice as long as a typical meeting (which still makes it shorter than every one of our sister cities.)ย  It covered the Budget, your Property Taxes, our Human Services Budget (which helps thousands of people.) And yet a grand total of zero people signed up to comment. As of this writing a whopping 43 people have watched it. (sigh)

Yes, but are you paying attention?

People see me looking away during the Zoom meetings and wonder if I’m even paying attention. The nerve! ๐Ÿ˜€ For the record, I’m taking notes on another computer screen.

But as some of you know, a lot of the material is already covered in Committee Meetings, so most of the presentations are things I’ve already seen. There’s very little ‘new’ material at our City Council Meetings. Also there’s no real dialogue to speak of (it’s not like Councilmembers are debating or trying to convince each other of anything or even modifying stuff as happens in other Cities.

So you’re not wrong if you wonder who’s actually paying attention. Because most of it is a formality. And when it comes to Councilmember comments, a lot of those are also not really information sharing per se. Eg. Councilmember Nutting, in his comments described the absolute perfection of our 2021 Budget stating something like (and I’ll get the quote wrong here but I do think I’m capturing the sense of what he said) “You couldn’t move five dollars around without breaking the whole thing.” Now that’s something, right? ๐Ÿ˜€

Being best isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s this vibe that everything presented to the Council is, worry-free, baked to a golden brown and not to be messed with. If the Council believes that the Budget presented to them has such a delicate balance, why would anyone try to amend anything, right? You might break something!

I’m not being snarky (OK, maybe about 10%) But making everything that the administration presents so ‘perfect’ scares me. Not because it’s untrue (there are many ways that Budget might be tweaked without risk–some might even be ๐Ÿ˜ฏ better.) And not just because we’re not really participating in the process (let alone performing oversight). No, what scares me is that I know a certain portion of the public recognizes the performative aspect of our Council Meetings and that makes them even more cynical in any already cynical world.

I think my colleagues see all these claims of “we’re the best” and clockwork precision as a plus–I think they truly believe that such hyperbole inspires confidence with Developers and generally boosts our image. I’m not so sure. I think it makes the public feel like their participation is irrelevant.

In Councilmember Bangs’ comments, she encouraged more volunteerism. As I’ve written many times there is an absolute dearth in volunteerism in Des Moines. But what my colleagues don’t seem to recognize is that the City has done almost everything possible to push away the public over the past five years. I made a comment at the beginning of the meeting that the City should do more to provide outreach to the public on how we determine their taxes. And the reply I got from Mayor Pina was, “Anyone can find this out if they go looking.” That basically sums up the philosophical difference between myself and the rest of the Council. I believe that it’s 2020 and we need to reach out to you. The more information we provide, the more welcoming we are, the more likely we are to feel like the City is a place they want to volunteer.

Human Services Advisory Fund

As I said l would do last week, I voted ‘no’ on the Consent Agenda item to fund the Human Services Advisory Fund. I did so not because I object to the grants. I voted no because I asked for some very basic information on each of the grants ahead of the meeting from our City Manager and got… Nada. Niente. Bupkis. That is simply intolerable conduct. As I’ve said many times, Councilmembers should be able to receive fulsome responses to their requests for basic information on any topic they feel will help them do the job.

Sadly, the current majority is fine with it. (Maybe they don’t care to know about all these programs to any depth, but I certainly do.)

Currently the only form of protest I have is my vote.

I applaud the great work these volunteers and our staff are doing. And in fairness, the City is edging closer to a long-standing goal we’ve had to get to 2% of Total Budget for these grants. We’re not there yet. But it’s progress and I am very glad that we’re heading in the right direction.

Property Taxes

Some good news here. But getting back to that whole ‘public engagement’ thing for a minute: open that packet and go almost to the end (pg 168ish?) and it will show how your property tax dollars are spent. Note that the portion of the pie that the City gets keeps going down over time. In other words, don’t blame the City for your property taxes. Cities have been getting slowly starved for cash now for two decades. And this is just one of those ways.

During the public hearing on property taxes I commented that the City should do more to make the public aware of how we use your tax dollars. I already gave you Mayor Pina’s reply to this suggestion. Councilmember Bangs stated that there really was nothing to worry about given that we’re not raising taxes. In other words, if it doesn’t cost you more money, you probably don’t care. I strongly disagree.

Anyhoo, we did vote on next year’s property tax. The good news is that, unlike the Port Of Seattle, we are freezing the rate at current levels andย not raising the rate 1% as has become the usual practice. Well done. The only caveat is that the law says that we can push that increase into future years. Remember how I said I was worried about our Budget for 2022? We could theoretically come back then and retroactively charge the 2021 one percent on top of that current year’s increase. I would not vote for such a thing.

Storm Water Management (Environment Committee)

Surface Water Comp Plan Update

OK, this is the bad news. Maybe. The Storm Water Fund is kinda the biggest piece of business for the Environment Committee. I wish the committee could do a lot more real ‘environment’ stuff (water and air quality), but that’s what it is for now.

The amount of money that the City needs to prepare for future issues is high. We have a 1.3% reserve for unexpected issues. I have no idea if that is sufficient or not. Itย seems low to me, but what do I know, right? All I know is that we blew through that with one landslide last year. In fact, we’re under-funded by over $3.6 million dollars to do all the projects we need by the next big review in 2026. To fully fund them would add about $2.80 a month to the average homeowner’s bill. I have very mixed feelings on this. Three bucks a month isn’t the world. But I know many of you feel nickeled and dimed to death. Because we do have quite the array of fees and utility taxes. And taken together it adds up to real money for you.

My concern is that if we don’t keep ahead of these projects we’ll be in real trouble. As you know, we’ve had several water-infrastructure problems this year. The infrastructure in much of our City is at or near end of life. And then there’s that pesky climate change–the more it rains, the more work there will be to do.

I’ll close this week by mentioning yet another information request I made that went unfulfilled. I asked for some background information that might help me to decide on how much funding to vote for. As you can see from the presentation, we can be aggressive in funding these programs or we can do less and hope for the best. Right now, I don’t have an idea of how to think about this more broadly.

*I may be exaggerating my prayer routine slightly. Bad Catholic. Bad Catholic, JC.

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