by Jack Mayne
The much-debated utility tax increases were put off until December by the Des Moines City Council, because some members were unsure that compromise figures in a solution hammered out during a previous weekend retreat were presented accurately.
The Council also heard community and Councilmember discussion of the moving of the controversial treatment facilities of Valley Cities proposed use of land in the Woodmont neighborhood to newly-acquired land in downtown Kent.
An official of the Washington State Auditor’s office also told the Thursday night Council meeting (Nov. 19) that certain financial problems the city has been cited for are being positively addressed.
Utility tax postponed
Councilmembers voted to postpone until the Dec.17 meeting the approval of increased utility taxes. Also postposed to December was approval of the city’s operating and capital budgets.
Mayor Pro Tem Matt Pina said because the final proposals that came from a previous Saturday retreat were too late for him to have time to check, he said he wanted to get opinions of some of the utilities concerned.
The proposed percentage tax amounts were not mentioned, although that number was once at 16 percent, but a lower 11 percent was also considered.
To pass the rates involved in the issue would be the “best of the worst,” Pina said, but eventually a decision has to be made but he said he was not ready to do that yet.
Councilmember Vic Pennington said he was also concerned about the numbers and “I want to make really sure that the numbers put in here and the dollar amounts are accurate.
“I am not ready to pass it tonight,” Pennington said.
His motion to postpone passed six to one, with Councilmember Bob Sheckler voting against it.
Valley Cities going to Kent
Mayor Dave Kaplan told the Council that there had been a meeting with Valley Cities’ Ken Taylor on the use of the Woodmont property now that treatment operations have been slated to move to downtown Kent. He said Valley Cities wanted to have a “community engagement,” or meeting with Woodmont residents, some time in the future to discuss uses of the property. One use considered could be Valley Cities’ administrative offices.
Kaplan said the city is carefully looking at any processes that would prevent Valley Cities from ever considering drug or alcohol treatment in the future – or any of the services that residents of Woodmont had objected to.
“But for the efforts of the community in talking to people who fund Valley Cities, this would not have been possible,” said Kaplan. “The city was not in a position legally to be able to do that and it took the efforts on the part of members of the community to be able to speak to the people and address the people who fund Valley Cities to get them to the table to have a conversation.”
Keep community spirit
Resident Sheila Brush said “good job, community.” She mentioned the number of people who attended meetings protesting Valley Cities’ plans for the Woodmont area.
“I am going to talk about the sense of community that I felt over these last – August till today, that I haven’t felt in the 15 years I have lived here, which is my fault because I have not been involved,” said Brush. “And I don’t want it to stop. There is a lot of work to be done in this town for positive change.
“I hope we all stay together and we continue to care because I’ve met people I would have never met,” Brush said. “I’ve met wonderful people.”
Harry Steinmetz said the city needs to raise revenue and the property owned by Valley Cities is the largest piece of developable property in the city, and whatever Valley Cities might build there would not bring sufficient revenue to the city.
“I am concerned that we need revenue,” Steinmetz said.
Councilmember Luisa Bangs said she was pleased those working on the Woodmont problem are interested in continuing to work together “for bringing our city to where it needs to be … and see that this is really a good city.” She said many good things are coming but that it would take time for the tax revenues to expand significantly.
Business park on track
The Council was told that a legal challenge to Panattoni Development Company’s lease contract with the Port of Seattle has been settled and Panattoni will be moving forward with the 89-acre Des Moines Creek Business Park site, bringing a large number of family wage jobs to the city.
Panattoni’s preliminary development budget for the project is estimated at $100 million to $125 million. The development will include up to two million square feet of flexible-use, manufacturing, office, distribution and industrial business park buildings able to accommodate tenants that desire immediate proximity to Sea-Tac Airport for their business.
“They want to go charging forward to get this thing going as fast as possible,” said City Manager Tony Piasecki.
Audit problems under control
Evans Anglin of the state auditors office summarized the results of the latest state audit report and said the city’s accountability audit that tries to help Des Moines citizens understand the accountability of the city government to help it to do better.
He said the auditor encourages citizens to come up with their questions on how the city is doing managing their tax dollars.
“There were quite a number … of citizen complaints of improprieties” concerning a “sub-development” by “an organized and dedicated group of citizens,” Anglin said.
The auditor was referring to accusations of improper actions by residents of a recently built housing development. Some residents of the development have had issues with the homebuilder, and have made a variety of accusations.
Anglin said the complaints were either beyond their authority to examine or there were no “improprieties in the things they alleged,” Anglin said, adding that that does the allegations were wrong or right, just beyond the authority of his agency to made a determination.”
He said the meeting that the city does have financial challenges, “tonight is a pretty clear demonstration and in discussions everyone in the city is clearly aware of it – they are working to address it, it is a challenging issue.
The auditor said that the city has “partially resolved” negative issues found in a previously found in an audit many citizen has said were proof the city was being mismanaged.
“I wanted to acknowledge the fact that we can see the city is absolutely taking steps and efforts to address the situation,” he said. The work is partially done “because it is a long-term situation and it is not solved. There are definitely financial problems out there but, from our perspective, it is being address and I think clearly that it is being addressed.