Re-treated to La Conner - City plans how to spend its money, surplus at annual planning session

By Ruth Longoria

Planning was the key word at the City Council retreat in La Conner last weekend.

The village atmosphere of La Conner provided a quaint backdrop as the council planned how to spend -- or not spend -- the Island's $2 million to $3 million surplus. Though the council couldn't always agree on verbiage, they agreed that the surplus needed to be allocated.

``It's planning what are we going to do with the carry over, not how are we going to spend the money,'' Mayor Alan Merkle told the council and the lone Island resident who attended the Saturday sessions of the retreat.

The council's former agreement to fund $1 million of the Boys & Girls Club's gymnasium improvement project in exchange for the city's use of the gym part-time ended when the club failed to meet its contract deadline.

However, the council agreed Saturday to leave the $1 million unallocated -- which is considered by some councilmembers as an additional surplus -- and possibly use it for a future youth project.

The Boys & Girls Club could come back to the council at a later date with a proposal that the council might or might not agree to fund. But, at this time, there is no plan, Merkle said.

The additional surplus, about $2 million, was more rapidly planned for and allocated.

The council agreed to have Parks & Recreation Department staff begin work on a new master plan for Luther Burbank Park. The plan would be an updated ``Island-ized'' version of the former park master plan, taking into account the already expressed opinions of community members and previously decided upon areas that would not be developed.

The plan, which will be presented to the council for input, will be like a map, showing designs for areas -- such as canoe or boat rental space, additional play areas, and cart vendor space -- that could be developed in the future, as well as areas that would be left alone, such as green space or shoreline. It also would provide cost estimates for the possible additions, development projects or restoration aspects.

``I'm more than happy to spend any amount -- as long as it's grant money,'' Councilman El Jahncke joked when Councilman Jim Pearman suggested possible planning for shoreline restoration projects, which, Pearman said, could be funded through grant money.

The council also agreed to allocate $550,000 of a $829,000 request for the firefighter's pension fund, which would include pensions for 40 retired and current employees, as well as a portion of their expected long-term care costs. Additional funds will be allocated at a later date by this council or a future council, councilmembers said.

There was a unanimous decision to pay the $400,000 estimated cost of cleaning up the maintenance shop's 10-year-long petroleum spill (though the city would be reimbursed 50 percent of the cost from federal funds within the next few years).

The council agreed to allocate $50,000 to offset cost to daycare providers who will be returning to the community center. Because of state daycare licensing requirements, the providers will have additional expenses as they return to the center. This is due to the loss of previously lesser requirements, that had been grandfathered in prior to the providers moving to temporary facilities. When the daycares return to the center, they will have to meet the state's current licensing requirements, as if they were new to the building.

Although there won't be any check in the mail for the council's ``rebate'' to taxpayers, the council agreed to potentially save Islanders money in the next two years by allocating $170,000 of the city's surplus to pay for what otherwise could have been a 1 percent homeowner tax increase in each of the next two years. In the past few years, there has been a 1 percent property tax increase every year to Island residents. The ``rebate'' money would go into the bond fund, so there won't be a levy to pay for new bonds within the next two years, City Manager Rich Conrad said.

In a Sunday discussion, the council agreed to allocate $200,000 each for: Park improvements, residential street overlay projects, and to widen the East Mercer Way pedestrian and bicycle shoulders.

The council also set aside $100,000 to pay for a lobbyist who will be involved with future I-90 issues. The city will plan a council meeting in the next two months in which Sound Transit staff and Eastside Sound Transit Board members are in the audience and able to present I-90 updates, as well as give the council a chance to react to those updates, Conrad said.

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