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City Council: City Budget, Artificial Turf for Island Crest Park's Ballfield and More at Mercer Island City Council Live Blog

City Council will meet in council chambers inside City Hall for its regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting. Get the latest updates from the Mercer Island City Council Meeting by following this story.

The Mercer Island City Council will meet on Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall at 7 p.m. to reach agreement on the upcoming 2013-2014 biennial city budget, refitting Island Crest Park's high school varsity ballfield, and to resolve a dispute with a private property owner concerning an easement for a city sewer line.

Mercer Island Patch will provide live updates of the council meeting below.

Click on the PDF of the agenda (to the right) to review the items up for discussion and decision.

10:23 pm

City Council is adjourned.

10:22 pm

Tana Senn reminds residents that the final Mercer Island Farmers Market of the season is Sunday, Oct. 14 (Ed. Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version stated the last farmers market is Oct. 7)

10:20 pm

The city council will meet at 6 pm for a study session for the annual Communities That Care (CTC) coalition and Emergencey Preparedness reports.

10:15 pm

City Council moves on to other business.

10:10 pm

Deputy City Manager Noel Treat presents the city's Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The biennium's major projects are the anticipated levy passage for Fire Station 92, Luther Burbank playground equipment replacement, phase two of the Island Crest Way street resurfacing project and modernization of stormwater drains and sewer pumps.

10:02 pm

The city is also recommending a 5.1 percent increase in stormwater utility, and 9.5 percent increase in sewer utility, among other increases.

Overall, it's a $21.29 increase over last year, but that's still lower than the county average.

9:58 pm

City Finance Director Chip Corder reviews the biennial water rates for 2013-2014. The city is recommending water rates are increased 8 percent, or $5.64 per bi-monthly bill for the average customer.

"We try to smooth the rates as much as possible," he said.

9:56 pm

Here's the proposal for a broadly distributed increase in revenues: Conrad is advocating a 3.4 percent tax on public utilities in 2013 and 5 perent on 2014. to raise $425,000 and $625,000, respectively.

9:48 pm

Conrad lays out his general fund budget of approximately $24 million in 2013 with a warning that, even with economy turning around, "We have a structural imbalance. The city is still too reliant on Property Tax."

9:22 pm

Conrad refers back to the city's biennial citizen's survey and focuses on areas where citizen feedback was less enthusiastic: traffic safety, emergency preparedness and ect. Citizens said school funding was biggest issue, followed by traffic safety.

9:20 pm

Four public hearings are scheduled on the budget: Oct. 15, 22, Nov. 5 and 19. Conrad says he expects the budget will be ready for approval by Nov. 19 for approval on Dec. 3.

9:17 pm

City Council reconvenes with City Manager Rich Conrad addressing the council on the 2013-2014 biennial budget.

9:10 pm

A consensus of the council agrees to allow most of the proposals to increase utility help, but asks the city to return at a later date with assistance directed at renters that don't have individual utility meters.

The council adjourns for a brief 5-10 minute break.

9:02 pm

City Manager Rich Conrad advises the council that if they want to help the needy population, they will need to try programs and measure their effects afterwards.

"This is complicated stuff," Conrad said. "This is people's live that are shifting and changing."

8:57 pm

Cero asks about what kinds of decisions low-income families must make when taxes and fees are increased.

"I've have had people say to me 'I can either pay for my meds or pay for my food.'," said MIYFS's Manriquez.

8:53 pm

Councilwoman Tana Senn says she anticipates that city utility rates will increase and asks what a corresponding increase would look like in the utility assistance program. City Deputy Finance Director Frances Lake says an 8 percent increase to the discount would hold costs at it's current level.

8:48 pm

Councilman Grady asks about additional sources of help for residents. Cheryl Manriquez says Hopelink directs federal funds from LI-HEAP and PSE offers PSE Help. Grady advises that MIYFS should mirror its program closely after federal programs.

8:40 pm

MIYFS coordinator Cheryl Manriquez clarifies that a household of two which is under 50 percent of median in King County is $34,750. 70 percent of state median income is $39,276. HUD would determine the King County number of 50 percent of median and lower as "low income".

8:32 pm

Goodwin says there are roughly 7,300 utility users on Mercer Island. Of those, there are 55 participating families and individuals who are given a utility cost reduction for water, sewer and stormwater fees, costing the city nearly $19,723.

The council is considering 1) Change the eligibility requirements, 2) Increase the current discount amount from 50% to 75%, and 3) Offer an annual rebate to low income residents without an individual utility meter.

8:29 pm

Goodwin reviews who MIYFS helps: Disabled, seniors, employed and unemployed Islanders. The proposed program for utility assistance averages a reduction of $300 per year, with a maximum of $600 per year.

“They look like us, they are us. They are people who have often just lost their job,” she said.

8:24 pm

Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Director Cindy Goodwin appears to address AB 4754, Utility Assistance to Low-Income Residents.

Goodwin reviews what the city does to help residents who need economic assistance.

8:23 pm

The agreement is approved unanimously.

8:12 pm

City Council reconvenes and addressed AB 4771 Gullstad Settlement Agreement, Easement, and Release.

The city says the homeowner built a portion of a deck over a city easement for a sewer line.

A number of city council members told City Attorney Katie Knight that they personally know the Gullstads. She reassures the majority of the council that knows them that voting on the settlement would not violate the Appearance of Fairness doctrine.

Councimember Brahm said she doesn't know the Gullstads, but inadvertently gives a plug for Carol Gullstad's blog, Permission Slips — which she said she reads.

Scott Snyder, who was Acting City Attorney when the agreement was reached, weighed in on the Gullstads.

"These are not scofflaws. These people have been in process for some time."

8:04 pm

Councilwoman Jane Mayer Brahm compliments the users, private citizens and the city for coming together.

"It's high time to support this."

Mayor Bassett mentions that 36 families came togehter to donate the $150,000.

The motion to award the bid passes unanimously to applause.

7:58 pm

Mayor Bassett and Councilman Grady ask several questions about the ability to make the mound "portable" and allow the field to be used all year around, thereby increasing the base of users and spead out the cost of the fee.

Booster Club leader Jerry Goldberg responds that users of high-school level baseball would likely not support play on a portable mound, but might be amenable to a dirt mound that would be removed at an expense.

Grady: "Who from, say, September through February uses that field?"

Goldberg: "Fall ball teams, if we keep having this nice weather."

Parks. Supt. Jason Kintner said he could generate a cost in dollars

7:54 pm

Amendment fails, 6-1. Cero says he is happy about the project for two reasons: The Mercer Island High School baseball team gets an all-weather stadium, and the lighting project was derailed, which he described as a waste of money.

Mayor Bassett disagreed that there was nothing wrong with the lights. "When I drive across the I-90 bridge at night I can see those lights shining brightly. It was my understanding that we would get better, more direct lights."

7:45 pm

Cero offers an amendment to remove the one-percent for the arts fund and reducing the contingency fund to 5 percent.

Conrad weighs in first:

"It would be terrible for the council to manage a project line item by line item," he said. "This is not the right way to do business. I’m sorry."

7:42 pm

Grady says he's concerned by the $178,000 taken away from the lighting project, communication to the public over exactly what the fees are for and all-year use of the field.

Amendment passes 7-0; City Manager Rich Conrad says he will respect the city council's direction earlier this year that the city only match the donation by closely managing the costs and try to recover the $28,000 over the match. Bids for the project came in higher than expected, and Conrad said in order to complete the project by the beginning of next year the city had to accept one of the bids now.

7:40 pm

"This is council policy — we need to make sure we have a sinking fund that's sufficient to replace this so future councils are not surprised by this," Grausz said.

7:37 pm

Councilwoman Debbie Bertlin moves to award the bid and execute the construction contract. Grausz offers an amendment. He wants to reaffirm city policy that rental rates must be sufficient to replace the field at the end of the 8-year useful life of the artificial turf.

7:34 pm

Acceptance of the MISD's $25,000 check is unanimous.

7:20 pm

Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz asks Mercer Island Parks Superintendent Jason Kintner if the city could theoretically charge rent to the MISD to continue using Island Crest Park. Grausz said he's concerned about how much time the city is allowing the school district will actually have. Kintner said it would be problematic to charge rent. Kintner also confirms that the Ballfield User Group (BUG) has been advised of a new fee for using the field to pay for a sinking fund.

Councilman Cero asks about the city's policy of permitting dogs on the field (no policy from city yet), and whether or not the booster club is happy with the design (they are).

Councilman Grady asks about the other project to improve lighting at Island Crest Park. Kintner says the LED technology that will provide major energy savings is not ready for this type of use and is still in development, and says the project has been delayed until 2015.

7:15 pm

Mayor Bruce Bassett accepts a check from Higgins and Goldberg to pay for the improvements.

7:08 pm

Payables unanimously approved.

City Parks and Rec. Director Bruce Bassett introduces AB 4772 Island Crest Park Infield Turf Project Bid Award & Interlocal Agreement and invites Jerry Goldberg and Pete Higgins of the Mercer Island High Baseball Boosters Club.

The club will donate a sum of $150,000 to help pay for an artificial turf infield to prevent rain-outs and injuries.

"It's just a big step forward, not only to the high school, but all users of the field," Higgins said.

7:05 pm

Councilman Mike Cero requests accounts payable be removed from the consent calendar, asking about overpayments made in resident water bills. Deputy Mercer Island Finance Director Frances Lake responds that residents occasionally make mistakes. Cero also asks about the over $35,000 owed to PSE for a faulty meter.

7:03 pm

Mayor Bruce Bassett convenes City Council. No public comments during public appearances.

Kendall Watson October 02, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Councilwoman Tana Senn made a point of this, asking about how much more the program would need to increase it's discount to make up the difference so eligible families would not see an increase due to the fee increases. Councilman Cero sought to drive the point home by asking what potential increases on these families might mean. The city will return to the council with a revised utility assistance plan in the next month or two, before the new budget is approved.
Charon Gooding October 03, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I cannot believe what I am reading as to the recommended increases proposed by "our"' City Council. What are they thinking/drinking? This will affect not only those enrolled in the Family Services program, but the retirees and all M.I. homeowners. With the economy as it now stands, it is not the time to raise taxes on homeowners. I also read Councilman Cero's comments the other day re the fire station levy. I would like to clone him and add those clones to the Council.
Jean Dunbabin October 03, 2012 at 04:42 AM
It is unfortunate that the first thing that occurs to the city council is to raise taxes at a time when business and residents are stressed financially. They seem to feel that residents are like cows to be milked whenever it suits their plans.
Rita Moore October 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I am unhappy to see the storm water fee increasing. I do not see much mitigation happening to reduce the flashiness and stream bed eroding of our streams which are used as storm water channels. Sections of the perennial stream bed, near my house, have eroded over one foot since I moved here in 1999. I would like to see the storm water utility funds used to restore our streams.
Mercer Islander! October 03, 2012 at 08:21 PM
It's a good thing previous councils and voters supported these types of things that we have benefited from over all these years. Wonder what the future generations here will think of us if we end up saying NO to all future improvements that require funds.

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