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City Budget Stays on Track at Public Hearing: City Council Live Blog

Get the Latest updates from Mercer Island City Council, including business concerning the city budget, shoreline Improvements, CTC & Emergency Preparedness Reports and more...

10:46 pm

The next city council meeting will be held on Monday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.

City Council is adjourned.

10:43 pm

City Manager Rich Conrad says the city and the Mercer Island Sister Cities Association will welcome exchange students visiting from Thonon-les-Bains, France to an event to welcome Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.

10:38 pm

Grausz again underlines his concern with Human Resources salaries and asks the city to review HR compensation and salaries. A majority of the council, including Grausz, Bertlin, Senn and Cero, ask for the review of HR department salaries.

10:32 pm

The last department for review is the Information and Geographic Services (IGS). They're budgeted for $728,531 in 2013. The city is proposing the hire of a computer support tech. The city calls the computer support tech as a "critical staffing need". The city is currently staffed at 1.5 percent of staff. Another tech would bring the ratio up to 2 percent of all staff. "Best practices" is 3-5 percent, according to IGS director Mike Keyser.

10:23 pm

Next budget account up is Human Resources. Deputy Mayor Grausz says he's concerned with HR department salaries. HR Director Kryss Segle gives the following rough estimates of salaries for HR employees:

  • $67,000 Payroll Specialist
  • $77,000 Human Resources Specialist
  • $140,000 Human Resources Director

Segle says a lot more work is being done in-house, such as the employee handbook and the police promotion process.

Over the past biennium no executive-level recruitment has been done from the outside.

10:15 pm

The Fire Department budget is next — it's one of the largest budget accounts in the city. The city is budgeting $5,523,161 for 2013. The largest increase is for salary and benefit increases, followed by NORCOM increases and the city's fire truck maintenance contract increase with the City of Redmond maintenance contract.

10:10 pm

The City finance department is the next department for review. Corder reviews the city's contingency fund, which is typically set for 10 percent of General Fund expenditures. Due to the modestly increasing expenditures of the 2013 and 2014 budgets, Corder says he needs roughly $89,000 in 2013 and $99,000 in 2014 to fully fund the contingency fund. The council asks Corder to fully fund the contingency fund.

9:55 pm

Corder introduces an increase of .5 percent to the development technology fee, raising the fee from 2.5 to 3 percent, to cover costs of the services.

Deputy Mayor Grausz points out that the DSG group's services section is not fully complying with budget policy of paying for itself.

9:45 pm

Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz asks why the comp plan budgeting is happening in 2014 when the plan isn't required until 2015.

"One set of issues that you cannot escape are the transportation issues," said Conrad. "We'll be working on this in 2014."

9:42 pm

The city is proposing the conversion of planning examiner Brian McWatters from a contract position to a staff position.

"It's in the city's interest to hire him as a staff employee," City Manager Conrad said.

9:38 pm

Reviewing the budget of the Development and Services Group (DSG). The city is budgeting $2,206,202 in 2013 and $2,283,656 for this department. The big increase here is coming in 2014 for the city's legally required Comprehensive Plan update. They'll need additional outside help to complete that, and they've budgeted $70,000 for it.

9:30 pm

"We've needed a communications coordinator for a long time," Brahm said. A consensus of the council approves the "enhancements".

9:29 pm

Councilwoman Tana Senn: "It became clear that if we didn't have a staff person focused on sustainability, we wouldn't do sustainability."

9:26 pm

Councilwoman Bertlin says she's interested in measuring expenditures and learning about efficiencies and track savings and moneies saved through a sustainability coordinator. She said she also supports emphasizing the communication aspect of the sustainability/communications coordinator to promote emergency preparedness for the "safety and well being" of Mercer Island.

9:23 pm

City Clerk Ali Speitz responds by saying that public records requests have not dissipated and has not "gone away".

"Like many cities in this state, the needs of the clerk's office continues to grow," City Manager Conrad said.

9:18 pm

The City Council considers cutting the proposed "enhancements": The mailing of a paper MI Quarterly, the Deputy City Clerk and the City Communications/Sustainability coordinator. The Deputy Clity Clerk position is currently filled by Tami McNeal.

9:02 pm

After a short break, City accounting manager La Juan Tuttle resumes the city budget presentation by reviewing the City Manager's office, with a budget of $755,682 in 2013.

Councilman Cero is advocating for the elimination of funding for the mailed MI Quarterly. Funding was cut for the quarterly in 2011-12. He also proposed not creating a fully-funded Deputy City Clerk position.

Councilwoman Debbie Bertlin disagrees with Cero on eliminating the quarterly due to the population of Islanders who do not typically use the internet to receive city news. Councilwoman Jane Brahm agrees.

"I think the communication between the city and the community has suffered," Brahm said.

8:51 pm

Mayor Bruce Bassett says if Cero's worried about cost overall, he shouldn't be worried about shifting monies from one account to another when the overall budget doesn't increase.

Cero: "I guess I just wanted to grandstand a little bit because I see a little increase here and a little increase there."

8:44 pm

For City Council's budget, a 28 percent increase is proposed due to a shift of paying for the city's broadcasting fees ($11,500, from the city's communications budget).

City Councilman Mike Cero objects to shifting the cost from one budget to another. Deputy Mayor Grausz says the council should move the money back to avoid Cero's complaint.

"Let's just put it back from where it was so Mike won't play this political game"

8:35 pm

Next up is City Attorney Katie Knight. About half-a-million dollars fund the city attorney's office annually. A reduction of 10 percent is proposed by reducing the assistant city attorney and city paralegal's hours, contracting out assistant city attorney work and reclassifying the paralegal as a "legal assistant".

A majority of the city council indicates a consensus approving the change.

8:32 pm

Cero again questions the value of reviewing the budget by General Fund, and asks Corder is there was value to reviewing all fund balances and the General Fund. Corder offers an olive branch and tries to reassure Cero that he could perhaps create a more comprehensive review of all city funds.

8:28 pm

More "savings": Street sweeping shifted to the stormwater fund, and insurace premium drops, each of over $100,000. In 2014, Corder is projecting additional expenses for the comprehensive plan update, the firefighter's pension, and NORCOM, among other increases.

8:20 pm

Deputy Mayor Grausz reviews the cost-of-living increase: Unrepresented staff will get 2.6 percent increase in a cost of living adjustment.

City Manager Rich Conrad replies that staff will receive an increase this year after being held at the same salaries for the past several years.

"What we're saying with the COLA is they won't lose additional ground," Conrad said.

8:13 pm

Here's the budget decreases for 2013 in dollars: Fleet costs: $12,900, LEOFF1 retiree costs (firefighter LEOFF trust premiums): $27,470, Police Patrol overtime: $27,976, Revised interlocal agreement with MISD for elementary field maintenance: $45,000, Unrepresented employee salary savings (pay-for-perfomance suspended in 2013): $60,000, Adjustments in General Fund FTE: $93,173.

8:12 pm

Here's the budget increases for 2013 in dollars: Salaries and benefits will increase $915,638, NORCOM will increase $115,000, the Technology & Equip. fund will be restored with $100,000 in funding, miscellanious sevices wil increase $50,000, IT operations increase $46,702 and merchant fees (from credit card processing) will increase $30,150.

8:05 pm

Intergovernmental agencies: Corder explains a 6.2 percent increase is coming in 2013 due to NORCOM, the regional dispatching authority for emergency services. This is due to an overestimate of calls in the city of Kirkland, who is also a member of NORCOM.

7:59 pm

Councilman Cero states his reservations that reviewing spending from the General Fund is an "apples to oranges" comparison because it doesn't reflect services that have been shifted out of the General Fund.

"The amount of services has changed," Corder said.

"It's a cause and effect. You asked us to rein in spending," City Manager Rich Conrad said. "We use a number of levers to achieve an outcome we've aksed for ... In the end, those levers have a faily small overall impact. The budget is less than it used to be in the times of high revenues and inflation."

"We've done everything we can to not cut services," Conrad said.

7:57 pm

Contractual Services will drop nearly 9 percent in 2013, but head back up 8.6 percent in 2014 to help pay for a required update to the city's comprehensive plan.

7:53 pm

Overall, expenditures are expected to increase 1.9 percent in 2013 and 4.1 percent in 2014. Salaries are expected to increase 1.6 percent in 2013 and 3.9 in 2014.

Benefits will increase approximately 8 percent this year and next year. Two things really driving benefits rates, right now it's 7.1 percent and next year it will go up 9.19 percent of overall compensation (set by the State Legislature).

7:49 pm

Corder reports that medical premiums only increased 5.7 percent instead of projected 10 percent increase, and only 8 percent for fire department employees. L&I rates also increased 0 percent, instead of a 12 percent budgeted increase.

Overall, the city is projecting it will spend $100,000 less than it thought.

7:47 pm

City Finance Director Chip Corder presents a general overview of expenditures and reviews department budgets for the 2013 and 2014 financial years.

7:43 pm

The public hearing on AB 4776, Public Hearing: 2013-2014 Preliminary Budget Review:  Operating Budget by Department is opened.

Ira Appelman rises and criticizes spending practices by the city as wasteful and some programs as "idiosyncratic" council projects. He recommends the city review budgeting from "cummulative payables" to whom the city "writes the checks".

"I don't agree with the way that the budget is reviewed," he said. "Looking at expenditures and controlling expenditures is a very important process in government, and that isn't done here."

7:36 pm

Councilman Cero asks if the Calkins Landing is truly the top priority for these funds. Cero says he thought two drainage basins repsonsbile for most of Mercer Island's pollution into Lake Washington (from Town Center and the Mercer Village Shopping Center) were the highest priority. Boettcher says the highest priority is shoreline and habitat rehabilitation at Luther Burbank Park near Calkins Point is the highest priority, but didn't qualify for the program funding. The next highest was the Calkins Landing outfall.

Boettcher also clarified that two drainage basins repsonsbile for most of Mercer Island's pollution will be fixed in the nex biennium from stormwater rate increases.

The City Council unaniimously approves the agreement.

7:32 pm

City Maintenance Director Glenn Boettcher speaks on AB 4777, King County Flood Control District Interlocal Agreement which will repair and replace a "problem" stormwater outfall at Calkins Landing.

"It will create a 'green' shoreline, essentially," Boettcher said.

7:28 pm

Grausz asks about the new rental provision of 20 percent per 5-year increases instead of linking the increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Local resident Bob Bersos also asked in an email to the City Council about back-up power to local cell phone towers. City Attorney Katie Knight says the new terms of the lease, 20 years in total, will provide greater certainty to AT&T, and back-up power for the towers is rated for at least 4 hours of life.

The lease is unanimously approved.

7:27 pm

Deputy Mayor Dan Gruasz requests taking AB 4778, Cingular Cellular Site Lease Amendment for Wireless Communication Facilities off the consent agenda.

The Consent Agenda is approved.

7:21 pm

City Council considers adoption of the minutes for Sept. 24. Cero moves to make a motion to amend the minutes to reflect his "concern about adding to the headcount while the council contemplates tax increases for the next budget." The motion is seconded by Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz.

Councilmembers Senn, Brahm and Bertlin all express concern about using the minutes to dive into the level of detail that Cero is requesting.

The amendment passes 5-2, Senn and Brahm opposed. The minutes are approved unanimously.

7:18 pm

Callie Ridolfi, a member of the city's Sustainability Task Force, thanks the city for adopting sustainability goals for the next biennium in the proposed budget. She praises creating a city staff position of "sustainability coordinator" (the position would be funded in part from proposed increases in utility rates.

She advocates setting goals and interim goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the city's overall carbon footprint.

7:13 pm

City Council reconvenes for its regular meeting

Ira Appelman rises to address the City Council duringpublic appearances.

Appelman criticizes the CTC as following the Socratic philosophy that "virtue is knowledge" and that somehow, the explosion of alcohol availability is an expression of a "lack of knowledge."

"The elephant in the room ... Is that kids model adult behavior."

He says he "agrees with fright nights ... But by telling kids that it's bad bahavior and they shouldn't do it is disproven by 100 years of research and is just false."

7:01 pm

Senn also asks if the Station 92 will be used in the event of an emergency on the South-end.

Councilwoman Jane Mayer Brahm reminds the audience that there is no emergency shelter except for the Mercer Island Community & Event Center, so if a catastrophic disaster occurs, residents will almost certainly be advised to "shelter in place".

6:57 pm

Councilman Mike Grady asks about whether the city has a seismic monitor (it does not) and whether or not City Hall has temporary living quarters for city staff (they do).

Councilwoman Tana Senn asks how many emergency responders are on duty at any given time on Mercer Island.

Franklin says only 3 police officers and 7 or 8 firefighters are on duty "after business hours" and 6 city staff members live on Mercer Island.

"If a major earthquake strikes at 2 a.m., and you don't have a way to reach Mercer Island, that's it. That's your staff ... We will be relying on volunteers."

6:51 pm

Franklin reviews the role of the City Council in the event of a disaster.

"The big push for everybody, staff and council, is to make sure that your family is OK."

In the event of a disaster, the city and the mayor will contact the council and sign a local proclamation of emergency — which the council must ratify — as recommended by an "incident commander" and is subject to review every 14 days.

City Manager Rich Conrad: "You will be a source of information for us and vice versa," he said. "We know that people all around you will be asking you all sorts of questions."

"Information flow and calming the communities around you are essential ... That's probably the most important thing you can do."

6:43 pm

City Emergency Preparedness manager Jennifer Franklin details the city's Emergency Management program. Key initatives over the past year include:

  • Assisting the business community in developing business continuity plans
  • Strengthening our ability to respond to city-wide emergencies with volunteer response teams
  • Improve communications network for the EOC
  • ID and implement new incident tracking and resource tracking system
  • Identifying available resources at the local and national level: progress is being made relating to resource management and resource typing.

In 2012, Franklin details what has been done this year, including a memorandum of understanding with the Mercer Island County Club for the development of the shelter for the south end of the Island.

There are over 1,100 volunteers who support the City’s efforts to prepare for emergencies.

6:39 pm

Councilman Mike Cero is clearly opposed to I-502, and says as much. "I worry about this legalization of marijuana."

Councilwoman Debbie Bertlin adds that, as a parent of preschool and grade school children, "The advertising campaigns are provoking conversations in home. I can only see this as productive in terms of conversation, and getting a head start on taking about this."

6:34 pm

Councilman Mike Cero asks about information on marijuana legalization and calls the information he read about legalization "chilling". Cero asks what the CTC says about marijuana and cannot be happy about that. City Manager Rich Conrad reminds the council that city employees are not permitted to directly take postitions on political questions on the ballot in the coming election.

Cero also asks about using K-9 dogs in Mercer Island High School to locate marijuana there. Police Chief Ed Holmes said the Mercer Island School District is not opposed to that action per se, but that dogs could be "strategically" deployed in a particular situation.

6:27 pm

Cindy Goodwin solicits feedback from the city council. City councilman Mike Grady asks about the "four nights of terror", and Grady explains these are the four major dances held at Mercer Island High School where youth drinking and drug use occurs, frequently, Grady says, under the supervision of local parents and limo companies.

Franklin responds that the city sends every parent in the community a letter reminding them of their responsibilities. The Safe Rides program is also still available. He also said that MIHS principal Vicki Puckett will be addressing students on drug use while driving and the synergy between alcohol and drug use.

6:24 pm

Franklin says looking forward, the impact of alcohol deregulation in the state concerns him, noting that increases in theft have been recorded in the state.
Safety seals have "no impact" and "Kid use is going to go up," Franklin said, based on access rates being directly related to use rates.

He also notes that marijuana legalization under Initiative 502 ewould make it more likely for youth marijuana use to increase. Franklin said he was not aware of any "collective gardens" operating on Mercer Island, but this could change if I-502 passes.

6:19 pm

"We have been actively working to create a prevention mindset in the community," said Franklin. 

58 percent of 12th graders reported alcohol use in 2000, but 2010 that level dropped to 46 percent.

"Mercer Island has historically been well above state levels and we'd like to see that drop below that level."

Franklin also calls marijuana "the drug of choice" for Mercer Island youth. Marijuana use levels locally are holding steady, but elsewhere in the state they are on the rise.

6:12 pm

Franklin details the goals that the CTC has been trying to achieve on Mercer Island to reduce youth alcohol and drug use on Mercer Island. The primary goals of the CTC are to change community perceptions and "healty norms", spearheading city policy and to combat both alcohol and marijuana use.

The CTC recently recived a federal grant of over $500,000 for five years. Franklin also detailed the city's new "social host" ordinance where parents are held legally responsible for underage drinking on their property.

(Ed. Note: I'm being told this is the first city council study session to be televised.)

6:07 pm

City Council's Study Session begins with appearances by Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Director Cindy Goodwin and MIYFS Manager Derek Franklin, who is the program director of the Mercer Island Communities that Care coalition. (Mercer Island Patch is a member of the CTC coalition as a "media" representative).

bob murphy October 16, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Cero...dogs....seriously?! Booze causes lots more accidents and unbecoming behavior than pot. Pot is not a gateway drug. This is from a 58 year old who has smoked pot recreationally for 40 years . I am not a heroin addict, have not thrown up because of smoking too much pot, felt out of control, and have seen first hand, the effects of drinking too much. Smoke a joint....sounds like you need one.
Kendall Watson October 16, 2012 at 07:21 AM
Not a betting man, but I would guess that possibly all the council members are opposed to I-502. But just a guess.
Joe Smith October 19, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Control the element of surprise! Would you like to count on insurance? You Can. Why shouldn't crucial information reach us before too late? It should, now it does...tucked away for that rainy day! www.disasterprepared.net

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