By Mellow DeTray

Here’s our recap of the Des Moines City Council meeting held Thursday night, Sept. 14, 2023:

Burning Boat Festival Returns

Last New Year’s Eve, Des Moines celebrated the first annual Burning Boat Festival. The festivities lasted 6 hours and included burning a specially crafted boat at midnight. Festival organizers outdid their goal by selling 411 tickets and raising $37,000 for charity.

This year, organizers have a new goal of selling 500 tickets and raising $40,000. This year’s charity is the Highline Schools Foundation, which supports students in need. Festival organizers have already received $7,000 in sponsorships. The festivities this year will be shorter-lived, however, running only 3 hours, with the burning of the boat taking place earlier in the evening. Council voted to give $500 from the Hearts & Minds fund to the festival.

South King Housing & Homelessness Partners Update

The South King Housing & Homelessness Partners (SKHHP, pronounced “skip”) was created by interlocal agreement between eleven member jurisdictions, who pool resources to create and improve affordable housing. SKHHP currently has eight applicants with funding requests totaling $11 million, but the organization has only $6 million to allocate. One of the applicants is a preservation project that seeks to improve 20 low-income apartments at Victoria House II, in Des Moines. The other projects are in surrounding cities and unincorporated King County. To date, SKHHP has allocated money to create 109 new units of affordable housing in the region.

City Budget Presentation: Changes Coming

Due to increasing costs and restricted revenue sources, the city is facing a looming budget deficit for the first time in years. This deficit is expected to hit by 2027, but City Manager Michael Matthias gave an overview of some changes to city finances that could avert the shortfall

Some of the areas where costs have skyrocketed are police vehicles, insurance, and SCORE services.  City Manager Matthias explained that one of the reasons SCORE costs have gone up is that they are now fully staffed and operational after covid-era reductions, but still have a lot of empty beds. Des Moines will be paying about $1 million annually for the services of SCORE, with an “average daily bed” use of 7.5 inmates.

Without going into detail, Matthias said had a plan to negotiate the SCORE cost down. Councilmember Harry Steinmetz asked for a comparison of what would be paid per bed at King County Jail vs SCORE, and suggested the Des Moines Police could do their own “book & release” rather than sending detainees to SCORE and incurring higher charges.

Another change Matthias suggested is making Events & Rentals a New Enterprise Fund, which will require the program to be self-sufficient, rather than rely on general fund money to operate. He believes Des Moines has a wealth of city-owned assets that could be better utilized to bring in profit, with the motivation inherent in being an independent enterprise.

Another change he brought up is repurposing the $1,238,815 in unspent ARPA funds. He would like to see this money moved to the general fund to help balance the budget. This would take $400,000 from the passenger ferry service, $300,000 from emergency transitional housing, $200,000 from health care support, $158,000 from the body cams program, as well as smaller amounts from other programs ARPA money had previously been allocated to.

At the end of the presentation Councilmember Vic Pennington said that this was the first time a budget update had been so inspiring, and he thought the city manager came up with many great solutions and great ideas for what could otherwise be a very tough situation.

Farmers Market Season Ending Soon

Deputy Mayor Traci Buxton reminded people that there are only a few more weeks of the Saturday Farmers Market at the Marina, with the final market happening on September 30th.

In addition, on September 17th Mayor Matt Mahoney and Councilmember Jeremy Nutting will be participating in International Coastal Cleanup Day by diving in the marina and removing junk and trash. Mayor Mahoney said if you go to the farmers market that day, you can enjoy seeing all the crazy things they unearth from the water.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for 10 years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.