Roughly a year ago, January 6, 2020 was the first day for our new City Administrator, Bob Larson. Bob came to us with over 20 years of experience and started right in with getting to know our personnel and their needs as well as the city’s. We also welcomed new councilmembers Robyn Denson, Tracie Markley and Le Rodenberg, so several months were spent getting them all comfortable with our projects and work plan.
While the pandemic may have slowed the timeline on our planned capital projects in 2020, we nonetheless made significant progress in several areas. COVID-19 hit us hard and the state shut down the way we all normally operate. We found our citizens grasping for information and the need to connect our citizens, businesses, volunteer organizations and community together. We started a live Facebook dialog each week where I was able to inform everyone. We were also able to let the groups communicate together in the comment page throughout the week and help one another. We were one of the first in the state to do this and we also had various speakers and on location videos with businesses to promote them. Through time we cut this down to every other week along with our weekly radio appearance and the Mayor’s Blog. This helped us be as transparent and informative as possible during a pandemic.
With the shutdown of in-person meetings, we quickly implemented virtual meeting procedures to allow city business to continue as efficiently as possible. In addition, the city was able to use CARES Act funding to distribute $308,000 in Small Business Stabilization Grants.
This year equal rights were on many people’s minds across the nation and our city showed support for all races, nationalities, and equal rights for all.
There were two important studies underway in 2020 that are looking at the possibility of expanding the Tacoma Narrows Airport to have a longer runway that will allow commercial passenger airlines. The studies are being done by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) and the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC). Both studies have shown Tacoma Narrows as a site with the potential to expand. No decisions are coming soon, but it was important to be involved in the first steps of the planning process. Council and I have told the representatives of both studies that we are not interested in having a commercial airport near Gig Harbor and the airport’s sponsor, Pierce County, has now informed them to take us off their list.
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) was also conducting a study of new, potential passenger-only ferry service locations around Puget Sound. Gig Harbor was one of the locations under consideration by the study. The ferry style being considered was a 250-passenger ferry. We know that the ferry service would have to be greatly funded and subsidized by our city, thus our taxpayers. We are not excited to tax our citizens to fund this. Our primary concerns include parking, traffic and quality of life. We told them thank you but asked them to take us off their list.
Together with council we adopted a resolution that will permanently recognize October 12th as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the month of November as Native American Heritage Month here in the City of Gig Harbor. Each year during October and November, we will proudly display the flag of the Puyallup Nation in our Council Chambers.
We also formed an ad hoc committee made up of myself, councilmembers, residents, the Puyallup Tribe, and a Parks Commissioner to discuss restoring the original Native American name to an area in our harbor to honor the sxwebabc
(sk-whuh-babsh) band of the Puyallup Tribe. Hopefully in 2021 we will see this happen as well as the dedication of an Honor Symbol at one of our parks. We will be talking about other ways to recognize and honor the first people who lived here as well.
Site preparation work has been completed on our new operations shop. Our Public Works crews have long needed a new home; design and permitting on the Operations Center will proceed in 2021.
Progress was made in 2020 on design and permitting for a number of street-related projects; work is underway on the 38th Avenue improvements, Stinson Avenue pavement overlay and pedestrian improvements, Stinson/Harborview roundabout and improvements, Stinson/Rosedale roundabout, and the Burnham/Harborview roadway improvements. Construction on these projects is projected to proceed in 2021.
Significant public input was received and progress was made on the conceptual design for sewer lift station #6 located at the intersection of Ryan Street and Cascade Avenue. The public provided vocal input and the City responded by reconsidering options for the design of the lift station to better meet the desires of the neighborhood while still providing a functional lift station.
The City responded quickly after discovering during a scheduled inspection in October that a primary drinking water well (Well #3) was so deteriorated that it had to be taken off-line immediately and replaced. Staff has assembled a set of contract documents, advertised, and opened bids. This work should be completed by mid-summer in time for the peak water demand season.
The City made considerable progress on Parks projects as well in 2020:
- Conceptual design and permitting is underway on the Gig Harbor Sports Complex Phase 1B with continued work towards a final agreement with the YMCA for the two artificial playing fields as part of the Sports Complex Phase 1A site;
- Selection, approval and construction of a play structure at Kenneth Leo Marvin Veterans’ Memorial Park, part of the park’s master plan envisioned in 2007;
- Rehabilitation and remodel of historic Eddon residence at Boat Park has commenced;
- Lease agreement with the Jerkovich families to rebuild part of their dock to include the Ancich Park Public Human-Powered Craft Float (Community Paddlers’ Dock) that is a better solution for cost and open space instead of building a separate dock. We are in the process to build it in 2021
- Skansie Netshed repairs;
- Homeport feasibility study completed;
- Railway Carriages at Eddon Boat Building.
- Cushman Trail Emergency Locator Signage every 1/8 mile
We began collecting revenue in May 2020 from the Transportation Benefit District “TBD” Proposition #1 that was passed in November 2019 by the voters. The increase in sales tax by two tenths of a percent to 8.7% will help fund our road improvements. This only amounts to 20 cents per $100 and will remain one of the lowest sales taxes within the Puget Sound Region. This will allow our city to raise roughly $16 million over the next 10 years for new construction of roads and traffic improvements. It is not for maintenance, sidewalks or curbs; those will be funded in other ways. The city will also now be in a better position to obtain matching grant opportunities that come our way. This will benefit everyone that enters our city, yet only a small portion will have to be paid for by our citizens.
The lack of attainable housing and growing homelessness are issues that are facing us here in Gig Harbor and all over Pierce County. I’ve been working with a group of Pierce County mayors over the past two years to try to brainstorm ideas for ways the city can help with these issues. This group is now called the South Sound Housing Affordability Partners (SSHAP) and together we hope to make headway in 2021 and the years to come.
In 2020, the Community Development department worked with a nationwide consortium of Cities and Counties to oppose the FCC’s Declaratory Order 6409 regarding 5G/Small Cell deployments. The City’s primary interest has been to retain local regulatory control through design aesthetics and process. We continue to work with the consortium and the law firm BB&K.
In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council passed multiple ordinances providing temporary relaxation of Special Use Permit requirements and eliminated Encroachment permit fees. These actions allowed restaurants and other local businesses to serve customers outdoors, opening up opportunities to keep business flowing while complying with State Health Mandates.
In 2020 what the Municipal Court has experienced and what has been accomplished is historic. With teamwork and coordinated efforts, we have navigated an ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has spring-boarded us into change many courts have inched toward for decades.
Court staff quickly adapted and implemented a completely new way of conducting business to keep the court open and accessible to the public. Remote processes were launched in April 2020 including electronic signatures, video and phone hearings via Zoom, electronic filing, and virtual remote interpreting. Since April 1, 602 Zoom hearings have been held.
Gig Harbor Municipal Court was also selected as one of four limited jurisdiction courts in Washington to serve as a pilot court for the new, more modern case management system. The Odyssey case management system will replace a case processing system built for district and municipal courts in 1987 and will be implemented in about 240 courts across the state. It will provide judge and court staff better access to statewide case records, will streamline case management, and will provide probation departments with their first shared, statewide system.
In 2020, the Police Department faced significant operational challenges with the arrival of COVID-19. Our officers had to adjust the way they responded to calls and had to wear additional personal protective gear when doing so. The inability to book most offenders into jail due to COVID-related restrictions also created some enforcement issues. This inhibited our usual proactive approach to some community issues as we adjusted to this new work environment, but overall, Gig Harbor remained the safe and pleasant city in which to live and work.
- Recruited and hired two new police officers to augment our current staffing. One more officer will be added in early 2021.
- Hired a Police Services Specialist (PSS) to fill the void left by a longtime employee in that position. The new PSS has assimilated quickly into the department and has brought a lot of outside knowledge to our organization.
- Upgraded our 20 year old patrol bicycles.
- Creatively maintained compliance with the state-required 24-hour in-service training requirements for each officer, utilizing distance learning and in-house training sessions.
- Improved case management processes to more accurately reflect our case clearance rate.
- Instituted a new evidence packaging and submission method to improve efficiencies in the property room.
- Implemented a new training database program to more accurately track individual training and certifications.
- Continued to update and implement new department policies. We maintained (or exceeded) state and federal requirements in this area.
- Reimplemented a dash and body camera program throughout the department. Full activation scheduled for January 2021.
- The 2019 statewide crime summary (released in June 2020) showed that our crime rate fell by over 10% for the previous year. The state average crime rate was down 6.1%.
- Successfully collaborated with several demonstration groups to ensure peaceful First Amendment displays occurred without incident.
- Obtained a grant to implement a “Bait Car” program to deter vehicle prowls and thefts. We greatly increased the number of vehicle prowl incidents solved by arrest of the suspect.
- Hosted several COVID-19 drive-thru testing events.
- Our department hiring practices were featured on a Seattle television news series, focusing on our use of emotional intelligence as a factor in choosing police officers.
- Donated over $2800 to the Carol Milgard Breast Center from funds raised by our officers participating in the Pink Patch Project. The Milgard Center was pleased to accept these funds, which will go toward providing screening services for women who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
- Completed the year with zero sustained citizen complaints against our officers. In fact, our public support remained very high throughout the year.
In our Tourism and Communications Department, we welcomed a new department director in February, and navigated the COVID outbreak through a quick ramp up in our crisis communications outreach. We increased the Gig-A-Byte newsletter frequency from monthly to weekly in order to provide a listing of businesses that were open, and launched a weekly Facebook Live Q&A to combat misinformation and increase communication with the general public. The audience numbers were so successful, we are continuing the live Q&A bi-weekly. The Association of Washington Cities magazine profiled Gig Harbor’s Q&A series as a communications best practice in their monthly magazine, Cityvision.
While Tourism took a blow this year, we actively began modernizing our advertising and marketing program to be data-driven and post measurable return on investment through a shift to targeted digital spend. We worked with the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee to award $75,000 in LTAC Grants for events and programs that drive tourism to Gig Harbor, along with planning for an additional call for applications in Spring 2021. We also shifted our summer concert series into an online fundraiser for local businesses, in partnership with the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. Looking forward, we have streamlined our marketing budget and we’re looking forward to welcoming an assistant position to the department in 2021.
Human Resources has done a great job navigating COVID-19 this year. They’ve had to lead the response to keep our employees safe. We successfully negotiated new collective bargaining agreements with our police and general employee unions and we also implemented a new NEOGOV program to help us recruit new employees better.
We welcomed the following employees this year:
- City Administrator, Bob Larson
- Building Inspector, Sean Brady
- Maintenance Tech, Peter Frontiero
- Tourism and Communications Director, Laura Pettitt
- IT Manager, Keith Smith
- Associate Planner, Amy Hilland
- Police Officers, Mark Burns
Going forward we have a busy schedule for 2021 with many capital projects. We hope to complete them to the best of our ability while not over burdening our city with construction. We look forward to sharing these projects with the public. The projects can be found in our 2021 budget and we will be doing public outreaches to inform our citizens as well.
We are concerned for our staff and community with the roll out of the vaccine and we are in touch with health officials to try to aid our community in every way possible to get through this crisis financially, mentally and healthy.
We wish you a healthy and prosperous year.