The Des Moines City Council had a packed agenda at its Thursday, April 25, 2024 meeting.

  • Spring events like the Waterland Wine & Art Walk and the South Sound Opening Day of Boating were announced.
  • Residents aired concerns about park safety and potential tax hikes.
  • The activation of speed cameras on Redondo Beach Drive was discussed, along with the rejection of a hefty bid for the Redondo fishing pier project.
  • The most contentious issue, however, was the levy lid lift. Facing a looming police officer shortage, the council will ask voters to approve a property tax increase on both the August and November ballots. While some councilmembers saw this as essential for public safety, others questioned the clarity of the message and the need for a double ballot measure.

Spring Events

Saturday May 11 is the Waterland Wine & Art Walk in the Des Moines Marina District. More information can be found here. According to Deputy Mayor Harry Steinmetz, ten different business locations will be participating, including the theater, which will have live music, wine, and art. 

In addition, that same weekend marks the South Sound Opening Day of Boating at the Des Moines Yacht Club. The opening day ceremony is open to the public, and more information is available here. According to a proclamation in recognition of opening day, the Des Moines Yacht Club has gathered people from neighboring yacht clubs to host this ceremony annually for over 50 years.

Public Comments

One speaker thanked Interim City Manager Tim George for his Weekly Reports. She said that between this and the community information shared by Councilmember JC Harris, they are rising to the challenge and completing the work of a dedicated communications person. She said the Weekly Report could be a more cost effective replacement of the City Currents newsletter.

Another speaker shared concerns that the council is considering a tax increase to pay for continuing expenses that have until now been covered by one-time ARPA grants. She feels that more alternative solutions should be sought before resorting to a tax increase.

One neighbor complained about drug use at Redondo Beach. She said the area needs a sign alerting park-goers that drug use is not allowed in the park.

Redondo Beach Concerns

Traffic cameras are now live and in use in Redondo. Speeders along Redondo Beach Drive will be receiving letters of warning for the next 30 days, alerting them that in the future such speeds will result in a $140 ticket. By late May, those letters of warning will no longer be sent out; instead, drivers will be issued tickets by mail.

City staff recommended that Council reject the single high bid to replace the Redondo fishing pier and bathrooms. It was explained that the one bid came in at $10.6 million, more than double the engineer’s estimate. Instead, as City Manager Tim George said, they will temporarily put aside the expensive pier project, and seek bids on the construction of a bathroom and secured parking. George said they will also look into why no other companies were willing to bid on the pier project. He hopes the restrooms could be done by the end of the year.

City Manager Recruitment Update

Council was given a timeline for the hiring process for a new city manager. At the May 2 council meeting, the recruiter from hiring firm SGR will come in person to discuss the city’s needs. The position will be open to applicants from May 14 through June 30. That window could be extended, if not enough suitable candidates apply. At a previous meeting it was mentioned that the applicant pool is slimmer than in past years. Semi-finalists and finalists will be selected and honed down in July and August, and then interviews conducted the week of August 26th. In September, the hiring process and negotiations will take place, and then, if all goes as planned, a new city manager could start work on October 1st.

Deputy Mayor Harry Steinmetz pointed out that this is much later than projections from last fall, when the council was told they would have a new city manager in June. He expressed concerns that Interim City Manager Tim George won’t want to take on this temporary role for so long, but George allayed fears by joking that as long as he keeps getting time & a half, he’ll be fine with it. Assistant City Manager Adrienne Johnson Newton said the October 1st start date is ambitious, reminding Council that setbacks can happen, including candidates being unpredictable and backing out of the process at any point.

Levy Lid Lift Approved

Council voted 4–3 to place a levy lid lift on the August ballot, which will ask voters to approve a property tax increase to $1.40 per $1000 of assessed property value. If this passes, it will bring an additional $3.1 million to the city budget. This money will go into a special fund spent on public safety including the retention of current police officers, making the ARPA-funded positions permanent. In addition, four new officers will be hired. Each police officer costs the city $215,000 per year. According to Deputy Mayor Steinmetz, additional police and increasing public safety is something the community frequently asks for, but it does cost money.

Councilmembers voting against this include JC Harris, Yoshiko Grace Matsui, and Gene Achziger. Councilmember Harris said that even though he has long thought a move like this was necessary, the message about how these funds will be used is not coherent enough. Later, City Manager George said that the message will be clarified after staff gets the needed approval from Council to proceed. 

Councilmember Matt Mahoney said if the levy fails, it will result in a reduction of officers rather than the needed increase, as well as reduced officer safety as they will not be working with full teams; he worries that officers might then move on to other cities where they feel more valued. In addition, he said there will be a reduction in court services causing increased delays, and the homeless outreach position will go away.

Not only will this be on the August ballot – if it is not approved the first time, voters will see the same levy lid lift on their November ballot. Council approved the item to be on both ballots as a backup measure, in case people need more time to warm up to the idea of a tax increase for public safety. If the measure passes in August, it will be pulled from the November ballot. 

Councilmember Harris said that, despite searching, he could not find examples of having the same levy lid lift on two consecutive ballots, and he did not like the maneuver. Mayor Traci Buxton said she feels okay about asking people to vote twice for something this important. She said there might be more turnout in November, or people might change their minds.

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.