One of the many items we are doing right now at the City is having several work sessions with the Council and department heads to prepare the 2019 Preliminary Budget. A draft is already available on our website. There will be changes as we meet with Council. At the beginning of our budget is a message from the Mayor which recaps our accomplishments and finances in 2018 and tells about the goals, challenges and finances for 2019.
I thought I would use this month’s Mayor’s Blog to show you the Mayor’s Message at the front of our 2019 Budget Book. It may be long, but we have been busy and are an active city. I look forward to your comments.
When I officially became your mayor in January, I knew we were facing many challenges. I feel honored that the community entrusted me and the other newly elected Council members, as well as the incumbents, to facilitate change. Gig Harbor had been the fastest growing city in our county for several years and we needed to put some structure in place for responsible and sustainable growth. With collaboration from councilmembers, staff and input from our community, we have the opportunity and responsibility to guide our city to new heights without losing the charm, character, and rich heritage that make this beautiful place our home. Not only do we need to be responsive to our 10,000 plus residents that make up the City of Gig Harbor, but also the surrounding 55,000 that call Gig Harbor their home. We are all dependent on one another in making our city the best place to live, work, play and explore. My goal has always been for Gig Harbor to be a model city, not only in Washington, but nationwide.
The City was going through many changes when I started my term. Several past council members had served for many years and had been devoted to helping the city achieve success. They had worked hard, but as the tide changed, four chose not to run again and let others step forward to lead the City in a new direction. We started 2018 with five new councilmembers and a new mayor. I’ve had a steep learning curve and would like to thank the dedicated city professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens who have graciously allowed me to learn along the way.
As a private citizen in 2017, I spent many hours with the finance director and went over the 2018 budget. Many line items were expenses that I felt were unnecessary and not a good use of taxpayer’s money. Upon taking office, I worked diligently with each department director to cut expenses from the existing 2017-2018 biennial budget. This effort lead to some cost savings in 2018 and I hope to make more fiscally responsible decisions in 2019.
The following is my mission and vision statement that I presented to staff upon taking office on
January 2, 2018 which I feel still applies for 2019:
The City of Gig Harbor seeks sustainable growth that protects our natural and historic resources, while preserving our values, quality of life, and culture.
- We are a community committed to managing a balance between the collective vision of our residents and commercial needs.
- We will foster diversity and active participation from each neighborhood in preserving our community’s natural assets, quality of life, and cultural heritage.
- We will manage the city’s resources with fiscal responsibility.
- We will facilitate improvements developed in harmony with our unique maritime character and environment that offer residents, businesses, and visitors quality services that promote healthy lifestyles, high community standards, a safe environment, business success, and a welcoming community.
The following are some successes the City has experienced in 2018:
City Administrator. As I promised in my campaign, I wanted to find a qualified city administrator who had relevant proven experience to help guide the city. Finance Director, Dave Rodenbach, was appointed Interim City Administrator while filling dual roles. The recruitment process to find the right person was going to take 6 months as we were both very busy managing 110 staff members, 7 departments, and capital and private projects. It was apparent to both Dave Rodenbach and myself that we needed someone totally dedicated as an Interim City Administrator because we were both being over tasked. On April 16th, Tony Piasecki, who has over 20 years of experience in the public sector, started as our Interim City Administrator. Tony Piasecki brought to us great knowledge and experience and stayed on to help with our budget and many other critical tasks until August 9th. We completed a nationwide search and found, Wade Farris, who was the City Administrator in Othello, Washington, and a retired two-star general with the knowledge and professionalism to bring our city to new heights. Wade is working well with employees, council, citizens and the vision I have for our community.
New Positions. I immediately froze four positions approved from the prior year, that had not gone through the recruitment process. It was important for us to first gain an understanding of how the departments worked, learn about their needs and the reasoning behind the new positions. As a result, the positions were delayed for approximately three months. However, it was apparent our Court needed an additional part-time employee and Human Resources an additional full-time employee, therefore we filled these positions with temporary hires until Council approves them in the 2019 budget.
Attorney. Another big change we will be working towards is a legal department, and we will begin the process of finding an in-house Attorney. We are a busy city with an almost daily requirement to review contracts, resolve land use issues as well as a countless other legal matters. We have spent a lot of time studying this option and talking with other cities that have in-house attorneys. We believe having an attorney readily available to department directors, council, City Administrator and myself and will allow us to get immediate answers and will save time, money and efficiency and provide us another layer of protection against liability. It will also create more efficiency in our court system with our prosecuting attorney. Our current legal firm understands and is happy to stay on until this transition is complete.
Community Development Director. We are merging the Planning and Building Departments into one department and adding a Community Development Director to oversee this new structure. We will bring a few of the Public Works Department’s staff into this new department. This means the Planning Director position will be eliminated, the Building Director position will become a mid-manager position and a new department director position will be created. Our desire is to maintain our talented employees who are valued members of our workforce, and no one is being laid off due to this re-organization.
Our city was previously structured this way before the departments split. We are conducting an open competitive recruitment process to fill this position, which means both employees and members of the public who are qualified may be considered. These changes will not happen overnight, and the transition period may take up to 3 months. We hope to fill this position by mid-December.
Court. Our Court needed immediate attention. A new judge was appointed in December 2017 and rumors of getting rid of the Court were causing dedicated employees to leave for more stable employment. While interviewing employees, I discovered the Court needed additional resources to provide stability or we were going to lose this valuable asset. The Council acted quickly and publicly announced there were no plans to dissolve our Court. We hired a temporary part-time employee which has allowed Court operations to run more effectively and give the employees the stability they needed. Today, I am proud of our Court and the employees that run it. In 2019 we are budgeting to make this a position permanent.
Residential Moratorium. By January 31st after many city council work sessions, it was apparent to council and myself that we needed to listen to our citizens to slow down on our rapid growth and take action. A six-month moratorium on certain residential developments was enacted that lasted until August 12, 2018. With council, staff, and an outside firm, we adopted ordinances and regulations to try to responsibly slow the growth. Some would say we accomplished a feat that should have taken longer than a year to achieve. I am very appreciative of our Planning Department and Council who worked very hard to achieve this. However, there is more work to do, and it will probably take another year to fully reach our goals.
Property Acquisition. In January, I reached out to the Haub family who owned two and a half acres of 100-year-old forest near the mouth of our harbor. This piece of property is a signature landmark in our town. Developers planned to clear cut the property within four months to build ten homes. With the support of Council, the Haub family sold us the land and the view home next to it for $2.5 million, and within two months we closed on the property with a 2.18% interest rate. The forest will forever stay part of our heritage and is listed in the deed to remain a forest. Rental income from the house on the property will help offset the cost but will someday be an additional public benefit for our citizens.
FISH New Home. The City secured property from Pierce Transit that came from the Federal Transportation Administration. The past council started the work toward giving this valuable property to our 46-year-old food bank, FISH, for their new home. This is a long process, and not finalized, the plan is for them to build a large food bank on the property the City is transferring to FISH. This will help those in need in our community.
Sports Complex. In 2017, the past council purchased 11.48 acres near the YMCA for $3.5 million to be paid for over three years. The present council is working with community partners toward developing a sports complex for our community which will include Astroturf and full-size fields with lights. We have now finalized a conceptual design with eight months of input from the public. By partnering with the YMCA and other local groups to secure donations and grant funding, our goal is to complete the project in three phases as the need arises and financing becomes available. The first phase will be built next to the YMCA and have two fields, trails, playgrounds, pickle ball, bocce ball, pavilion, picnic shelters, restrooms/concession building and more. Phase two and three will surround the YMCA and have other amenities for outdoor activities.
Public Works Projects. We completed the Harbor Hill Road connecting Gig Harbor North project. This was our most expensive road to date. The City received $8 million in grant funding which went towards the total cost of $12.8 million project which was completed ahead of schedule.
We brought Well #11 online and in an event of an emergency, this well has a back-up generator and can provide water to the entire city’s water service area.
We will complete three utility comprehensive plans by the end of 2018 as well as the transportation element update.
Ancich Waterfront Park. Late December 2017 the City broke ground on the Ancich Waterfront Park which is planned to be completed by early 2019. It will have a storage area for human powered watercraft, a large 2,200 square foot public viewing platform, restrooms and other park amenities. A historical net shed has been rehabilitated next to it that will be used by our local fisherman. Our national award-winning Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team and the community will be able to use the new facility. Public sign up information for storage use will be forth coming.
Transportation Benefit District. Last summer, the City Council formed a Transportation Benefit District (TBD). Per State law, the TBD has authority to either levy a fee on auto licenses or propose a .02 sales tax to be voted on by the citizens. The City can only use the money collected by the levy or the tax for transportation improvements. As such, we are proposing to raise our sales tax from 8.5% to 8.7% and we want the citizens to be part of this decision. We chose to put it on the November 2018 ballot. This would result in an extra 20 cents per $100 and would raise roughly $16 million over the 10 years of the proposition, then it would expire. The money would only be used toward our $96 million Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) and Connect the Gig, which is the transportation element of our comprehensive plan. The proposed tax increase would not be used for maintenance, sidewalks, bike lanes and curbs. Those needs would be paid for by other funds. Anyone who enters the City of Gig Harbor and makes a retail purchase would pay the increased sales tax, residents and visitors alike, and everyone who lives in and visits our city would benefit from the results.
While council, staff and I have made great strides in doing what is best for the city, we look forward to even greater success in 2019.
In order to continue being good stewards of our funds and to quickly respond to financial changes each year, we will be adopting an annual budget in 2019. This is a change from the city’s previous practice of a biannual budget. You will also see our outline to position our city financially and organizationally for 2019 and beyond. I have been working closely with each department director and going through the upcoming budget, item by item. We have not had the oversight in recent years that I feel is needed to retain our savings for emergencies or future needs. I ran my election on being a good steward of the taxpayer’s funds. I believe we can do this by controlling our costs and spending so there will be less dramatic swings in the budget. We have spent two months doing our due diligence by carefully examining all of our proposed expenditures and cutting items from the budget where warranted, before providing it to council and the citizens. We have shown in the budget where our cuts have been made. Staff and I have worked together to cut over $3.4 million, which you will see throughout the 2019 budget document. Many of those cuts are seen in the budget document as either “Removed Objectives” or strikethrough amounts. Many times, budgeted items not spent move over to the next year’s budget. In fact, many of our 2018 cuts can be found here and to me are not worth spending and moving on to the 2019 budget.
You will also see that we did not bond in February 2018 as was planned. This bonding was planned for over $3 million to pay for the future Public Works Shop. We have studied this and found that we can borrow in the future from our Utility Division at a lower interest rate. This will keep that interest income in our own city for the Utility Division and will save over a million dollars. The rest of the money we will need for the shop will be funded from within. We also did not bond for other reasons mainly because even though we would have more money we would also have significantly more debt in the future. We hope to complete the Public Work Shop some time in 2020.
The following is a list of the unbudgeted expenses inherited from the past administration in 2017:
2017 September Masonic Lodge Property $695,000
2017 December OPG Sports Complex Property $876,463
2017 Ancich cost overruns $2,300,000
Estimated additional unbudgeted expenditures $ 500,000
The current administration purchased the following unbudgeted properties in 2018:
2018 May Haub Triangle property $631,072
The current administration was able to absorb the above expenses without borrowing additional funds. Most of this was achieved through REET funds (Real Estate Excise Tax) that are generated through taxes levied on the purchase and sale of homes.
I have discussed how we are spending your taxpayers’ dollars. Below is one example of how we get the money to fund these expenditures. Since our annual sales tax makes up roughly 60% of our revenue I wanted to show the following chart and provide an explanation of how much the city actually retains.
Some other items we are presently working toward completion are as follows:
- Finalizing our Comprehensive Plan with council.
- Creating new employees polices.
- Cleaning up outstanding bills, and situations in town that need dealing with.
- Updating our traffic impact fees.
- Updating our park impact fees.
- Restoring Eddon Brick House for a recreational hall.
- Removing the East Bay out of our urban growth area.
In 2019, we hope to achieve several things for our City. First, get started on our Sports Complex to provide quality facilities for all. Second, complete the first phase of the Public Works Shop and complete the work on several of our parks so that we continue to have first class facilities for both our citizens and community. Next, we have to tighten our ordinances and regulations with regard to development, as both the new Councilmembers and I promised to do. We will also work with our state and federal lobbyists to achieve economic development goals, plan for affordable housing, and secure RCO funding for the Gig Harbor Sports complex as well as transportation improvement to the entrance ways along State Route 16. We plan to partner with the Peninsula School District to help them be aware of new residential developments and discuss potential impacts to their school system. Finally, we are conducting a thorough review of the City Code to make sure it is responsive to the changing needs of our community and the needs of our citizens.
As you may already know, I put out a blog (which you can subscribe to on the City’s website) and a letter to staff roughly every three weeks to keep everyone well informed of current city events. We are here to listen to our citizens and community members in order to be more transparent. One way I am doing this is having “Coffee with Kit.” Please feel free to join me on the first Tuesday of every month at Kimball Coffee where I can hear from you directly.
I am running the city like I ran my business, a tight ship, being very watchful of the citizens dollars. This will provide us with long term financial stability that we need. Lastly, I am very proud of all our employees. I truly feel our departments are working very hard and we have some of the most dedicated employees who diligently serve this community each day.
I am honored to present the 2019 budget to the residents, community and City Council.