Budget challenges dominated 2018 on Mercer Island

But arts, new ideas and community also provided a reason to celebrate.

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.

In January 2018, Salim Nice and Debbie Bertlin were selected to serve the Mercer Island community as mayor and deputy mayor. Katie Metzger/staff photo

In January 2018, Salim Nice and Debbie Bertlin were selected to serve the Mercer Island community as mayor and deputy mayor. Katie Metzger/staff photo

In May 2018, the Mercer Island Police Department posted a selfie with Russell Wilson, writing that the officers provided an assist for the big win” after helping the Seahawks quarterback with mechanical issues with his boat. Photo via Facebook

In May 2018, the Mercer Island Police Department posted a selfie with Russell Wilson, writing that the officers provided an assist for the big win” after helping the Seahawks quarterback with mechanical issues with his boat. Photo via Facebook

LimeBike offered electric bike demos at the Leap for Green fair in April 2018. Later, the city would conduct pilot project with ride share and E-bike companies, testing out first/last mile solutions for Mercer Island commuters. Katie Metzger/staff photo

LimeBike offered electric bike demos at the Leap for Green fair in April 2018. Later, the city would conduct pilot project with ride share and E-bike companies, testing out first/last mile solutions for Mercer Island commuters. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Retiring Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) smiled with current members of the city council — Benson Wong, Wendy Weiker, Salim Nice, Debbie Bertlin and Bruce Bassett — at a reception held for her in November 2018. Clibborn had announced her retirement from the state Legislature earlier in the year. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Retiring Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) smiled with current members of the city council — Benson Wong, Wendy Weiker, Salim Nice, Debbie Bertlin and Bruce Bassett — at a reception held for her in November 2018. Clibborn had announced her retirement from the state Legislature earlier in the year. Katie Metzger/staff photo

More in Life

Fifth-grade Girl Scout Troop 41868 recently completed the Bronze Award project which focused on educating classmates on the environmental harm done by disposable plastic water bottles, and encouraging the use of reusable bottles. (Pictured clockwise from top-left) Lily Harper, Chloe Su, Selina Zhao, Alice Zhu, Ella Sirkis, Maya Talby, Savanna Rousell and Mika Salomon. Photo courtesy of Patrice Rousell
Troop earns Bronze Award

Encouraging the use of reusable bottles.

Marion (left) and James Burtt of Mercer Island. Courtesy photo
                                Courtesy photo 
                                Marion (left) and James Burtt of Mercer Island.
50 years together

The Burtts celebrate anniversary

Issaquah resident Daniel F. McAllaster receives his French Legion of Honor Medal from the Consul General of France in San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens at the Museum of Flight on May 10. Courtesy photo of the Consular Agency of France in Seattle
                                The U.S. Veterans were awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal at the Museum of Seattle on May 10. Courtesy photo of the Consular Agency of France in Seattle
Eastside Veterans awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal

Daniel F. McAllaster and Richard A. Nelms awarded for their service in France during WWII

Photo courtesy of Mercer Island High School
                                Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare’s wittiest characters, have sworn off love. Hero and Claudio have jumped into love. The Mercer Island High School drama department is performing “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare for its spring production. Performances began on April 25 and will also be at 7 p.m., May 2 to 4. Presale tickets are $10 or $15 at the door. Seniors are $5. A pay-what-you-can performance will be held at 2p.m. on May 4. Tickets can be purchased from members of the cast or online at mercerislandschools.org/drama.
Love is in the air

Spring production at Mercer Island High School

Six Mercer Island teams qualify for Global Finals

Destination Imagination teams update

Record number of Mercer Island teams qualify for Destination Imagination state event

Fourteen (14) Mercer Island teams qualified for the state Destination Imagination (DI)… Continue reading

Mercer Island Preschool Association’s Circus will return on April 27

Activities include bounce houses, face painting and of course, a dunk tank.

Students embark

Exchange program underway for Island, sister city.

125 sack lunches were to the Safe Parking Program at the Lake Washington Methodist Church, Sophia Way, The Together Center, and to the residents of Camp Unity and Safe Parking at St. Jude’s. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo.
St. Jude’s Service Day Program helps combat poverty

The annual service day helps organizations who help Eastside communities experiencing poverty and abuse.

Libraries are places of connection and community pride | Library column

Written by Lisa Rosenblum, the director of the King County Library System.

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo 
                                Tom Kofler helps build the tiny house at Mercer Island United Methodist Church.
A response to homelessness: United Methodist Church builds a Tiny House for the homeless

The church will build the Tiny House during the month of April.

Mercer Islanders make pilgrimage to Israel

Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos and two Covenant Shores residents over 90 years old made the trip.