It was a challenging year for Mercer Island as community members debated the city’s financial future, starting with advisory group meetings in January and concluding with a plan for budget cuts in November and December. The Island also grappled with larger issues, including gun control, racial sensitivity and the passing of a local and global leader.
There were still many bright spots. A revisioning process for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) and a bold plan by the city led to a new location for the facility in Town Center, along with a planned commuter parking expansion. The Mercer Island High School Marching Band was selected to play at the Rose Parade, and helped a fellow band from a Puerto Rican community devastated by Hurricane Maria secure the funds needed to join them in Pasadena. Mercer Island police officers and firefighters raised money for causes by wearing pink and growing mustaches. The community enjoyed the Farmers Market, Summer Celebration and many more events.
Here are some of the year’s biggest stories:
“Passing the gavel: Mercer Island City Council selects Debbie Bertlin as mayor”: Going into the new year, the council reorganized with new leadership. Bertlin, the former deputy mayor, was tapped to lead the city as it navigated an impending budget deficit and other issues. Salim Nice was chosen to serve as deputy mayor.
“Assessor urges eligible homeowners to seek relief from property tax increases:” In February, Islanders were hit with an average property tax increase of 18.18 percent, resulting not just from rising property valuations in the area, but also from the state Legislature’s decision to fully fund K-12 education with a statewide property tax hike. Many in the area complained of “tax fatigue,” and seniors and other people on fixed incomes were encouraged to seek exemptions.
“Students throughout the region leave class and call for action on guns”: The demonstrations, part of the National School Walkout, marked the one-month anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It prompted the city to later recognize Gun Violence Awareness Day. “Even though geography says we’re 3,266 miles away, we still want to show our support to the victims of the shooting,” a student told the Reporter.
“Mercer Island moves forward to address budget deficits”: The community advisory group convened by City Manager Julie Underwood recommended a levy lid lift, with cost-cutting measures, as a solution to Mercer Island’s financial challenges. “We want to package the right solution that most Islanders are in favor of,” Underwood told the Reporter at the time.
“King County task force to explore solutions to ‘recycling crisis’”: China had previously announced that it was essentially closing its recycling market, and with tighter regulations affecting the flow of recyclables in the U.S., officials looked for new avenues for the region’s waste. This disruption was one of the reasons Mercer Island would decide to switch to a new solid waste provider later in the year.
“‘Racially insensitive’ yearbook photo sparks outrage among MIHS parents”: Shortly after Mercer Island High School graduated 360 seniors at its 61st commencement, including eight valedictorians, a controversy in the 2018 year book came to light. Residents urged the school district to foster cultural competency in students following the publication of an alleged racially insensitive photograph. It showed two students voted as “most intimidating,” each holding one young African American man in a headlock position.
“‘Hometown Hero’ fights cancer with community support”: This year’s Summer Celebration honored firefighter, volunteer and “rad dad” Kirk Robinson, and his battle with metastatic melanoma. Recent research has found that firefighters have an increased risk of getting cancer, but Robinson said he was staying positive, with the help of friends and neighbors. “Kirk has put out so much good into the world, that people are anxious to return the favor and help him for a change,” one said.
“Neighbors question impacts of ‘private community facilities’ on Mercer Island”: In August, neighbors who have lived next to the Stroum Jewish Community Center, French American School of Puget Sound and Herzl-Ner Tamid said they recently learned about a proposal to change the zoning on those properties, followed by a plan to remodel and expand. It would result in a debate, still ongoing, about a Comprehensive Plan amendment to create a new “private community facilities” designation.
“Mercer Island seeks partner to develop commuter parking and mixed-use project”: The city sent out a request for qualifications in September, seeking a developer for a private-public partnership on a premier site at the former Tully’s location and on city-owned property at Sunset Highway. The site, adjacent to the future Sound Transit Light Rail Station, would ideally have commuter parking spaces, condos and serve as a home for MICA. The city received nine submissions and eventually narrowed it down to two finalists, who announced that they formed a partnership to develop the project.
“‘Technologist and philanthropist’ Paul Allen dies at 65”: Arguably the Island’s most famous resident, the Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner died from cancer in October. Allen owned a lot of property, but his primary residence was a waterfront complex on Mercer Island, where he owned a total of 11 mansions.
“Voters rejecting Mercer Island’s Proposition 1”: The levy lid lift that would have continued funding police, fire, parks, safety net services at current levels failed in the November general election. It would have cost the owner of an average home on Mercer Island about $374 a year from 2019-2024. Both pro and con campaigns were active, but the “No on Prop 1” campaign prevailed, urging the city to implement accountability and efficiencies in its budget before trying to increase taxes.
“’Keep it good and make it better,’ Anderl says”: The “no” campaign’s Lisa Anderl was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Mercer Island City Council left by the resignation of Tom Acker. Twelve Islanders had applied for the position. “I would like to lead an effort to gain back the trust of the majority of the citizens/voters,” Anderl wrote in her application.