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Letter: Vote 'Yes' on Fire Station/Truck Levy, Rebutting Cero's 'No' Claims

Mercer Island Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz urges a Fire Levy "Yes" vote in a letter to the editor and explains Councilman Mike Cero, in an earlier letter on Patch, omitted several facts in an effort to "distort the city's record."

Editor,

When our City began the current 2-year budget cycle in 2011, we were looking at having to withdraw $786,466 from our Contingency Fund to make ends meet. By tightening our belts, eliminating waste and making hard decisions, we will end 2012 without having withdrawn a single dollar. Consequently, when I read Councilmember Cero’s letter that accuses the City of financial mismanagement as a reason for opposing the $5.2 million Fire Station and Rescue Truck Bond, I are not going to sit by and let him distort the City’s record. These are the actual facts:

  1. The fire equipment sinking fund was set-up in 2003 to be funded by dedicated property taxes and investment earnings on those taxes. Every penny of dedicated property taxes and of investment earnings has gone into the sinking fund and nowhere else. For Councilmember Cero to claim that the City has instead diverted those monies into “discretionary products and services” is patently false. 
  2. The sinking fund was never created to pay for a replacement fire station. Its only purpose was to purchase new fire equipment. The ONLY reason the sinking fund is insufficient to buy the rescue truck is low investment earnings. When established, we projected earnings of 5% or more. Since 2008, interest rates have plummeted. If we had been able to earn 5% or more, we would now have more than enough money for the rescue truck.
  3. The City does not have surplus monies sitting around that could be used to pay for this fire station and rescue truck. Adjusted for inflation, our City is actually spending the same in 2012 from its General Fund as we spent in 2007. That would not be the case if, as claimed by Councilmember Cero, we were wasting surplus monies on discretionary projects. 

I find Councilmember Cero’s position disingenuous. He has publicly supported the new fire station, the $4.8 million cost of which represents more than 90% of the Bond proceeds. , representing less than 10% of the Bond. Yet he has also said that he would have supported this Bond if the full $5.2 million had gone to fire station. Why would he waste money on unnecessary building frills rather than buy essential, life-saving equipment?

This is only the second time in 16 years the City has asked voters to approve additional revenue. When we ask voters now to replace a 50-year old fire station and a 17-year old rescue truck, we do it only because:

  • Community safety is our highest priority;
  • There were no alternative funding sources;
  • We had first spent almost a year finding ways to reduce the project costs; and
  • Low interest rates enable us to get the entire project paid off in 9 years at an average cost of $60/household.

Contrary to Councilmember Cero’s inferences and innuendos, this is the type of fiscal management and prioritization that Islanders are entitled to and why I encourage Islanders to support this critical safety initiative.

Dan Grausz

Deputy Mayor

Voice of reason October 07, 2012 at 05:25 PM
So Jerry, you've determined the facts Cero provides are correct but the facts that Grausz provides are not? I know the Patch is planning to actually check the facts ... but your comment suggests you have done that already to come to your conclusion. So if you could provide the evidence that Cero is accurate and Grausz is not, that would go a long way to figuring out how to vote on this.
Jim Stanton October 07, 2012 at 07:32 PM
I support Voice of Reason's comment that we will be better served if we reach our conclusions after we have the facts, not before.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 07, 2012 at 08:01 PM
My PatchBlog is intended to help fellow Mercer Islanders make up their own minds on the FireStation ReDo. I spent years doing just this for my custom home clients, J- http://mercerisland.patch.com/blog_posts/south-end-fire-station-should-be-remodeled-enlarged-not-demolished#photo-10749324
Ira B. Appelman October 07, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I’d like to BEGIN to address Grausz’s false claim that the “City does not have surplus monies sitting around,” to pay for “essential life-saving equipment,” and his supporters’ claims that it would be “irresponsible” (JasonK) or “gutting” (Landsman) our programs to expect the Council to budget for our highest priority. I think Cero’s point, and the point I’ve been making since 1997, is that the City has plenty of funds without asking the voters for more. The Council poorly prioritizes expenditures. Just last meeting, the Council appropriated $178,000 for artificial infield turfing, a worthwhile project, but is turfing a higher priority than an “essential life-saving” rescue truck that the council says it cannot fund? In 1998, Islanders rejected, 67% to 33%, a community center bond measure (http://your.kingcounty.gov/elections/98nov/respage9.htm). The City Council built it anyway with $16 million of “surplus monies sitting around.” These surplus monies did and do come from the real estate excise tax (REET) and the sales tax. The City gets about 0.5% excise tax from all real estate sales; recently the City got a $108,000 windfall from the sale of a large property (http://mercerisland.patch.com/articles/mercer-island-mansion-sells-for-21-6-million). Islanders would be surprised at how many taxes and fees the City gets. I have posted above a PARTIAL list the City generated in 1999 under threat of I-695 (Agenda Bill 3421, 9/20/99).
Dan Grausz October 08, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Fair enough Ira although I consider the 2008 ballot measure to be one request for parks and not two. I must admit that I had forgot the 2003 levy which was necessary to enable the City to take over operation of Luther Burbank Park from what was then a nearly bankrupt King County that was doing everything it could to shed itself of its parks. As to the Community Center, I had thought that was earlier but will take on faith your recollection as the one thing I am confident about is that you recall every tax ever imposed or considered as you have been against all of them in the same way you have been against virtually every change ever considered on this Island. In fact, I am certain you recall the years the City did not increase property taxes or offset the increase by paying down other voter-approved bonds so that Islanders would pay less taxes to repay that debt. And yes, there were times that the City increased taxes and fees. The City is no different from any business or, for that matter, any family. The cost of protecting and providing services to this community generally go up over time in the same way that a company's cost of doing business goes up and a family's cost to pay for its daily expenses goes up. Our City is no more able to absorb those cost increases without increasing income than the families that live on this Island who depend on higher wages and investment earnings. Time for a reality check. Police, fire, roads and parks do cost money.
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 05:58 AM
The Deputy Mayor graduated from Wharton. We banned them from the Ivy League long ago :-)
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Thanks for posting that link, Robert.
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Jerry actually has at least one copy of the consultant's report on fire service on Mercer Island. Do you have the '09 report, Jerry? In any case, it's my understanding he's reviewed it and made up his own mind based on the findings there. Jerry, care to give a little detail as to how you made up your mind, beyond the blog post?
Ira B. Appelman October 08, 2012 at 06:34 AM
Hi Dan: In 2008, the City proposed TWO ballot issues, an O&M levy and capital projects bonds. Voters approved the levy, but the bonds failed. The 2003 levy wasn’t at all necessary to accept Luther Burbank Park for free! The City had plenty of funds to operate the park. For years, KC had a policy of transferring local parks to cities and keeping genuine regional parks, like Marymoor. There’s no need to take ON FAITH what I wrote in my previous comment; I have provided the hyperlinks. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single year in which the City didn’t increase property taxes; the City always took an increase due to new construction. As to the “offset” scam, when the City increases property taxes by, say, 1%, that increase becomes part of the base and goes on forever. The City offsets THE FIRST YEAR ONLY, but fraudulently claims it has offset the entire increase. Contrary to what you say, I’ve been an Island leader in calling for CHANGE, such as the firing of City Manager Conrad for cause. In 2002, Conrad solicited sex from our (married) city clerk at an away meeting. She refused. You learned of this in 2003, but along with your colleagues, covered it up. The Lindell lawsuit followed directly from the City Manager’s violation of the Nepotism Policy, promoting the human resources manager to director. You have been THE LEADER in opposing a CHANGE of city manager. Your covering up for Conrad has been very costly to Island taxpayers.
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Hi Jeff, Yes, the Wharton School of Business is one of the primary schools under the umbrella of the University of Pennsylvania. They offer a 4-year undergraduate degree program and a 2-year master's degree program, and an additional year (or more) to earn a doctorate degree. I think the Deputy Mayor earned his MBA there, a degree you probably need to be Exec. VP of Holland America. I was just kidding about the Wharton snark, by the way. As one of the top-rated business schools in the country, they tend to pull a lot of attention their way, much to the consternation of others at UPenn, who aren't exactly slouches :-)
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA October 08, 2012 at 05:33 PM
. K- As to "a little detail as to how you made up your mind, beyond the blog post?" years of experience as an architect tells one to look at the situation, figure out what needs doing, compare it with what there is to work with, do what you can. That's what the City needs to do in this case. J-
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 05:43 PM
The city council seems to be also advancing the argument that they would like a fire station for the "next 50 years", while the current station has already been remodeled and expanded. Jerry, are you saying the city continue to spend money on the current structure, then?
Ira B. Appelman October 08, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Hi Kendall: I don't think "making the assertion" should be equated with "advancing the argument." Both the District and the City have MADE THE ASSERTION that public buildings only last for about 50 years; then, they must be demolished. Most of the homes in the neighborhood of the south end fire station are about 50 years old; I don't think homeowners believe their homes need to be demolished. The assessor's office has indicated that these buildings are made with stronger, higher quality materials than the inferior materials available for today's buldings. Our public and private buildings already will last for "the next 50 years" if properly maintained and updated when necessary. Private homeowners must from time to time put on a new roof, update the electrical system, remodel rooms like the kitchen and bathrooms, add a sprinkler system, and perhaps expand with additional rooms. The councilmembers and school directors haven't demolished their own homes; some have remodelled. Our public officials should treat public money with respect, as if it was their own money. Levies and bond issues add up. Islanders recently rejected the demolition of the schools, but we will certainly eventually see a substantial, though smaller, schools bond issue to deal with overcrowding. If we allow public officials to waste money based on vague assertions, we won't have enough funds to do what we need to do.
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Thanks Ira. It's "advancing the argument" in the sense that the city council — as a body — has advanced the idea of rebuilding the fire station and financing the fire truck through a voter-approved levy, and is now putting it to a public vote this November. You are correct that they should not be equated.
Voice of reason October 08, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Looking for the facts: Mr Appelman -- is Dan telling the truth when he said "you recall every tax ever imposed or considered as you have been against all of them". That seems like it's too far reaching to be true...so it informs how objective folks read comments here if you could confirm or refute this. Still trying to figure out how to vote on this!
Voice of reason October 08, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Interesting...I went to Mr. Brown's website -- and it asks people to send emails for agreeing to be on a list in opposition to nomischoolsbond@gmail.com It seems that the No folks on the school bond are behind the No campaign on the fire station too. That is intriguing and informative.
Kendall Watson October 08, 2012 at 11:09 PM
For those not familiar, Ira Appelman and Dan Grausz have a bit of history politically on Mercer Island: Appelman ran against Grausz in 2009 (something the Deputy Mayor occasionally reminds the audience of — and Appelman himself, who regularly attends City Council meetings).
Ira B. Appelman October 08, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Hi Kendall: Since you mention it, that political history goes way back farther than 2009. In 2001, councilmember Grausz wrote a very restrictive ordinance regulating all trees, including trees on flat land, that he was able to get a majority of the City Council to pass. At a council meeting months before, he promised Islanders he would never do such a thing. Grausz used the usual "naysayer defense" claiming that opponents of his ordinance were against everything. In fact, I had advocated a more prudent approach to regulate trees ONLY when they posed a public safety hazzard, such as trees on a steep slope, whose removal could cause a landslide endangering lives. I opposed that restrictive tree ordinance with the first local referendum in the history of Mercer Island and of the Eastside. Hundreds of Islanders joined with me in gathering the thousands of signatures needed to successfully defeat the ordinance. With this south end fire station, I have advocated that the City seriously look at a remodel before even considering demolition -- that they spend government money as if it is their own. Grausz has no interest in that. As I have already warned, Grausz is working in the background to demolish City Hall and move it to the Town Center in a new building at the Walgreens site, but that effort has stalled.
Kendall Watson October 09, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Thanks for sharing that, Ira. Will that story be in the updated MI history book the Historical Society is working on? I think they're updating it and I wasn't aware of a successful citizen petition on the Island. I hear the developer who had made inquiries into the Walgreens site as a new city hall has "scaled back" their interest. But regardless that property will be redeveloped as I understand this is the designated site for the next Sound Transit parking garage for the light rail station. Is that your understanding?
Voice of reason October 09, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Jeff, My guess is Grausz reminds people because his margin of victory was quite substantial....so he probably thinks that more people support his (ie. Grausz's positions) than Appelman's. Results are here: http://your.kingcounty.gov/elections/200911/Respage18.aspx
Kendall Watson October 09, 2012 at 12:47 AM
To be fair to both, the Deputy Mayor doesn't do it very often — perhaps twice in the past two years I've been informally keeping track. Far more often, the Deputy Mayor and Mayor actually address Ira's public comments from the start of the meeting while they are considering regular business, and either try to use them as a contrast to their ideas or sometimes as a jumping off point. He's not part of the council, but regardless of whether or not you agree with him, IMHO, Ira is effective in making his presence known to the public via these meetings.
Ira B. Appelman October 09, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Hi Kendall: I really don't remember Grausz ever mentioning the election at a city council meeting, except the kind words he said at the meeting right after I shook his hand congratulating him. I've never seen him be anything but a gracious winner. As for the updated history, I doubt that a "history" controlled by Jane Meyer and Susan Blake will contain many discouraging words. Islanders forget that Meyer ran the Distorter for years; the Conrad solicitation of sex from the City Clerk happened during Meyer's watch, but the Distorter has yet to report it (though a genuine newspaper, the Seattle Times, has reported it.) At the MI 50th year celebration at Mercerdale Park in 2010, then Historical Society President Phil Flash told me he had asked Meyer to interview me for the "history," but it never happened. My understanding about Grausz's attempt to demolish City Hall and move it to the Town Center is that the City will solicit input and advice from Islanders ONLY AFTER it's a done deal.
Kendall Watson October 09, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Hi Ira, Well, your impression might be the same as mine, which is that Deputy Mayor Grausz has a good-humored nature and he's never rhetorically far from a joke or witticism. It seemed he was saying it partly in jest, but he definitely mentioned it at least once in a public meeting as he prefaced a comment in opposition to something you had proposed. I would suggest it was likely in relation to the Lindell Lawsuit.
Ira B. Appelman October 10, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Dear Voice of reason: When Grausz is winning an argument, he praises opposition, but when he's losing it’s the NAYSAYER DEFENSE, opposition is against everything. I think you should vote based on YOUR EVALUATION OF THE PROS AND CONS and not on personalities, but since you insist, I provide the following: I moved to the Island in 1963 and when the 26th Amendment passed in 1971, I registered to vote as a 20-year-old. Do I recall every tax measure? No. Did I vote against every tax measure? No. I think I voted for most of them. In April 1997, I attended my first council meeting. I expected to find honest neighbors making reasonable decisions, but, instead, I found (some) dishonest manipulators. I resolved to help other Islanders and joined with them to accomplish a long list including saving Mercerdale and Luther Burbank from development. In 1999/2000, I joined with others to successfully resist a plan to fly SeaTac airplanes over Mercer Island for which I was selected MI Citizen of the Year (along with the others). Was that naysaying? It is true that I have resisted most of Grausz’s tax and non-tax initiatives because I find them dishonest and manipulative. Many of Grausz’s tax proposals have been rejected by the council itself, such as his adamant insistence that Islanders accept tolling on I-90 to support 520 construction. Nevertheless, I believe you should vote based on YOUR EVALUATION OF THE PROS AND CONS and not on personalities.
Voice of reason October 10, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Mr Appelman -- your answer is very helpful. And letting the pros/cons dictate one's vote is the best way, I agree. I am always careful to consider the arguments (usually based on selective facts and opinions) made by those who *always* support tax increased or *always* are against them. That's why I'm delighted that the Patch has agreed to act as a fact checker and provide the politicfact.org checking necessary to see through the noise to the reality.
Carla Rodriguez October 10, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Yay for fact checking!
Ira B. Appelman October 10, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Dear Voice of reason: I would just caution against making decisions based on personalities. Grausz has advocated more taxes than you will ever know, but THAT DOESN'T MEAN HE IS WRONG ON ANY PARTICULAR ISSUE. I am concerned that in this EDUCATED community it is the leadership style to generate a list of names to encourage Islanders to vote for something, without thinking, simply because someone they know is voting for it. Grausz is a leader in this tactic. Many of my activities, including circulating documents I obtain from the City under the Public Records Act, are designed to get Islanders to think for themselves. When I successfully ran the referendum in 2001 against Grausz's very restrictive tree ordinance, I included a true copy of the multi-page ordinance; some Islanders went through the ordinance line by line, making annotations. For the recent, defeated school bond issue, supporters circulated a list of over 1400 people supporting the bonds, including almost any local politician you can name along with the two candidates for WA Governor. It was gratifying to see that Islanders looked beyond that list and made their own decisions.
Kendall Watson October 10, 2012 at 09:13 PM
@Voice of Reason - Well, I've asked the non-politician expert on this to weigh in: City Finance Director Chip Corder just delivered a series of very comprehensive responses on a number of issues raised here and in both letters from Councilman Mike Cero and Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz. I majored in English, not economics — but I like to think I do a pretty good job of communicating and reflecting issues and current events happening on Mercer Island. So insofar as one considers the city finance director a factual, "neutral" source of information, I can provide a "fact check" based on that. I sincerely hope is answers go some way to refining the debate.
Voice of reason October 10, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Thank you Mr. Watson. That sounds like it will be really helpful as I make up my minds on the pros/cons based on the complete set of facts.
Kendall Watson October 11, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Hi all, Please take a look at City Finance Director Chip Corder's response to many questions that were raised by both letters: http://patch.com/A-y5SL

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