Greetings Gig Harbor!
I hope you are all well and safe. Summer is winding down and kids are heading back to school, even if it is virtually for the time being. We’re as busy as ever here at the City and trying to provide as much support to our employees who are also acting as teachers during this time.
As a reminder, you can catch me live on Facebook every Friday at 10:00 AM sharing updates on what’s happening here at the city, along with updates on the current health situation as it applies to us here in Gig Harbor. We are here for you, our citizens, to ask questions and inform you more than ever before about our city and issues that we are all dealing with. You can ask questions via messenger or by commenting on our page throughout the week, or posting in the comments section, whether you’re watching live or later on in the day.
Here at the city, we’re carefully monitoring the health crisis, and planning for recovery and a return to normal. As of September 3rd, Gig Harbor is currently at 174 cases total since March, up 9 new cases over the last week. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reminds us that these numbers are good news, and to stay the course… we should all aim to keep it small when it comes to gatherings. Masks are working. Keep it up!!
As a reminder, the metrics for considering in-person school instruction at the elementary level, and a gradual hybrid model for middle and high school students is 75 cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of under 5%. We’ve reached three of four metrics for re-opening with that gradual model, and we’re trending in a good direction. The metrics for moving out of Phase Two are at 25 cases per 100,000 over a 14-day span.
The Gig Harbor Police Department has worked with the Department of Emergency Management to bring the Pierce County COVID-19 Testing Trailer back to Gig Harbor on the third Friday of each month beginning on September 18th. Other confirmed dates include October 16, November 20 and December 18. The testing will take place in the parking lot of the Tom Taylor YMCA branch at 10550 Harbor Hill Drive, and testing hours will be from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. This drive-up testing is free to all and no symptoms need to be present in order to undergo the testing.
There’s also been new funding opportunities that have come up at the county and federal level recently.
The Pierce County Council recently approved the creation of the Pierce County COVID-19 School Assistance Program. $5.5 million in federal CARES Act funds are being made available to all K-12 Pierce County public school districts, tribal schools and approved private schools and charter schools with campuses in Pierce County. Allocations vary depending on student enrollment, but the maximum available is $750,000 per eligible school.
Launching yesterday, Wednesday, September 9, the Economic Development Board Vitality Grant will open applications to Pierce County small businesses and community organizations. The window for accepting applications started at 10:00AM on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 through 5:00PM on Sunday, September 20, 2020. In total, there is $580,250 available through this program, funded by the Federal CARES Act distribution, with $90,225 is available for community organizations, and $490,000 available for small businesses through $5,000 grants.
These grant funds are intended to go to for-profit businesses only. They must be located in Pierce County, however home-based businesses are not eligible. Businesses must have 20 or fewer employees, be able to show they’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and need to have been operating since March 16, 2019.
On the Federal level, more money is coming for the unemployed. FEMA announced that Washington is eligible for the grant that the state’s Employment Security Department applied for recently. This funding allows the state to provide $300 a week to those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 and is added to existing unemployment benefits. This money should help those who lost the $600-per-week supplement to unemployment last month, but this is a short-term measure and has different eligibility requirements.
From the fiscal side of the city, Finance Director Dave Rodenbach gave an update to Council on August 27th on the current state of the City’s 2020 Budget. Sales tax revenues are down 3% through May, and we are planning on a total tax loss of around 10%. Right now, we are estimating a total 2020 revenue shortfall of around $800,000. We’ve been planning for this since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and we’ve already taken steps to pause some projects and hold off on filling some vacant positions to make sure we stay financially healthy.
We’re planning to be cautious with our 2021 Budget, too. We’re going to need to trim around $1.3 million from the initial budget proposals from our Department Directors over the next month. The draft 2021 Budget will be presented to Council and available to the public on October 30. Council will hold meetings to talk about priorities and determine what ends up in the final budget.
Spending all of our yearly revenue without putting a reserve away is not a good business model. Last year, we were able to put over a million dollars away in a reserve fund for a major crisis. We didn’t know COVID was on the way, or that these funds would be used so soon, but the reserve is helping provide continuity to our residents in these tough times. My hope is that Council will to continue to be responsible to the taxpayers by making sure we’re able to proactively set aside funds for emergencies and be prepared for whatever may come next.
News from City Council also includes a very productive meeting that occurred on August 13th. Council met with Puyallup Tribal Leadership to talk about ways the City can respect, promote and celebrate the Tribe’s history and culture here in our community.
The City will be working with an Ad Hoc Committee made up of a cross-section of individuals and tribal historians to look at the potential of restoring a name at either Austin Estuary Park, Donkey Creek Park or Crescent Creek Park. This restoration would hark back to the original names given by the Swobabc (sk-WHUH-babsh) who first lived in the area. We think this is a very important endeavor to make sure our residents and visitors can feel connected to the first people who lived and worked in the harbor.
City engineers presented Council with design options for safety improvements along Burnham Drive between Harbor Hill and Harborview Drive. There is a real need for safe pedestrian access along this road connecting the waterfront to Gig Harbor North. Designs ranged from a simple infilled sidewalk to a wider multi-use path. Council’s Public Works Committee will be looking into it and making a recommendation soon.
Council’s Finance & Safety Committee is set to consider at options for regulating when and how motorized mobility devices are used on sidewalks, streets, and parks around town. The use of electric scooters is becoming more widespread and we need to have some rules in place to make sure they are used responsibly, so that everyone stays safe.
On August 24, Council passed resolution 1184, which allocates a portion of our Lodging Tax, or LTAC funds. Up to $125,000 per year will be given to local nonprofits through our grant program for events, festivals and event operations. The grants can be up to $20,000 each. The grant applications will be available within a couple weeks and then the LTAC Committee and City Council approves the grants which will be awarded for the 2021 fiscal year. The process will be reviewed again next spring for the 2022 fiscal year. This amount is a huge increase from previous administrations and gives the ability to help fund our nonprofit organizations throughout our city. This will only enrich our community and keep making Gig Harbor what it is, an incredible place to live, work, play, and visit.
The City has also settled a potential lawsuit with OPG dealing with the building of a shopping center at Gig Harbor North. Both parties were satisfied with the result, which will let OPG (or another developer) build the shopping center and grocery store when they see fit. We’ll be putting out a much more detailed joint statement soon.
We’re starting to get into election season, which means a massive increase of signage throughout the city. For unpermitted signs in the right of way, city staff will remove them, without bias for candidates or political party.
A quick reminder to all - signs are NOT allowed in roundabouts; medians; shoulders; travel lanes; and areas of the public right-of-way that are not accessible by a sidewalk or pedestrian walking path. For residential signs, the limit is four signs visible per property from the right of way. If you need more information on the immediate and free online process to permit an election sign, visit our website.
We’re also glad to welcome a new staff member to our planning division - Associate Planner, Amy Hilland. Amy comes to us from Kootenai County, and was previously based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She brings a lot of experience and knowledge and will be a great fit for our Community Development Department team. Please join us in welcoming Amy!
We’ll also soon be kicking off an employee engagement survey at the request of Council. The group that will be involved in this phase is a cross-section of the council members and senior staff in order to provide for a fair and robust representation of the issues. This group will consist of Councilmembers Bob Himes, Jeni Woock and Le Rodenberg; and senior staff Katrina Knutson and Jeff Langhelm and Bob Larson. This is a chance for us to learn about what is working and what needs to be improved for our employee experience. It goes without saying that Gig Harbor is a wonderful town and a desirable place for people to want to come and work. We want to make sure we attract the best possible employees and do our best to keep them here. Over 44% of our employees have been here 10 years or more with the average of those employees here 18 years.
I did want to reaffirm to you my values that lead me to run for Mayor, help guide our city and uphold for our citizens and community. Being Mayor of Gig Harbor, an incredible City in a beautiful part of the world, is an honor and privilege. I want to thank the citizens of Gig Harbor for electing me with over 70% of the vote to enact a platform including the key goals the community found important:
- Hiring the right City Administrator
- Responsible growth
- Protecting our environment
- Transparent government and respect for our citizens
- Responsible government spending and accountability
As Mayor, working with and for the community, I will continue to fulfill the platform agenda while striving to solve unexpected issues that arise day-to-day. Our community has been very successful during my elected term and can be proud as the City moves forward to grow and prosper, even during difficult times.
Being a Mayor is not an easy job, and sometimes, it can even be thankless. Providing leadership can be challenging, even more so when representing the community’s interests for the long term, instead of special interests or personal agendas that might not best serve the interests of the larger community. Integrity and steadfastness to principles are regularly challenged in positions of leadership. Please be assured – the principles that lead to my election will never be compromised.
Openness and transparency have been well-served through events like Coffee with the Mayor, increasing the Mayors Blog publication to every three weeks, and our weekly Live Facebook Q&A series. I also enjoy spending an extensive amount of time with constituents, and my office is always open for phone calls and one-on-one meetings. I meet with staff throughout the week as well. Communication is a two-way street, and I listen as much as I try to provide information – it has been one of my key priorities during my tenure with the City. Leadership requires discipline, principles, and knowledge of and respect for the administrative and legal system we live under and through which we must govern and work.
The realities of the requirements of administration, our legal systems, and having respect for personal confidentiality often requires leaders to carefully navigate the rules and ethics of Human Resources practices. This is particularly true in personnel decisions. As Mayor, I have a responsibility to hold our staff accountable, to ensure that tax dollars are appropriately allocated, and follow wise administrative procedures.
I love Gig Harbor. I have dedicated my life to the role of Mayor for the last three years, and there have been considerable sacrifices to represent our community in this leadership role. As Mayor, I will continue to allocate my time, energy and passion with integrity and transparency in order to serve the best interests of the community I love. I have hired an experienced City Administrator who I trust can move things forward on my behalf. In a lot of ways, I will continue to step back while he runs the day-to-day administrative tasks so I can focus on more big-picture projects in our community.
Again, thank you, Gig Harbor, for entrusting me with serving as your Mayor. I am here to serve your needs and interests and will continue to work tirelessly for our community.
Stay safe out there and remember to be kind to each other.