‘The state of the city in 2012’ | Island Forum

As we inch our way out of the Great Recession, and as I mark six months as mayor of Mercer Island, I’d like to share my thoughts on important happenings in our community.

First and foremost, the city’s fiscal house remains solid. We’ve reduced a few staff positions, and we’ve had to trim services modestly. But we continue to provide services at a very high level — from police and fire to parks and utilities. I believe we’re weathering the recession as well or better than any city in our region.

As we begin work on the 2013-2014 Biennial Budget, the outlook is more challenging. On the positive side, we have a fully funded “Rainy Day” reserve, which amounts to 10 percent of our General Fund expenditures. Not many cities can make the same claim. However, expenditure growth is outpacing revenue growth, and the mismatch is forecasted to grow.  Your Council will face some tough budget decisions this fall.

Looking beyond our financial state of affairs and our upcoming budget cycle, I offer updates on four areas of particular interest: schools, public safety, roads and sustainability.

• Schools: In the wake of the bond defeat, the City Council is working with the School Board to evaluate options for siting and rebuilding schools. The city and school district have a strong working relationship, and we share the common goal of finding the right package of school improvements to address school overcrowding and meet the instructional needs of our children.

• Public Safety: In November voters will likely be asked to support replacement of the South end fire station, which dates back to 1962. The building doesn’t meet earthquake codes and doesn’t serve the basic needs of the firefighters — and hence the community — adequately either. We’re aiming for a cost-conscious design that will serve the Island well for generations to come.

• Roads: We’re repaving Island Crest Way from Merrimount to 53rd Place this summer and restriping that stretch from four lanes to three. Why restripe? From a traffic flow perspective, the engineers are confident that traffic will flow smoothly and not back up. From a safety perspective, conversions like this in other communities have consistently reduced accident rates — often significantly. Using the inside lane for traveling and for turning, as we do on Island Crest, is a recipe for unpredictable stops and lane changes … and the resulting accidents. One traffic engineer summed it up by saying that today they simply wouldn’t consider building a four-lane road like Island Crest.

• Sustainability: One of my priorities as mayor is to make Mercer Island a more sustainable community. In March, I announced the appointment of a Sustainability Policy Task Force whose purpose is to help the City Council identify actions and priorities that will move our community forward. We’re fortunate to have Islanders who are local, regional and national leaders in sustainability serving in this group. The Task Force delivered its recommendations to the City Council on June 16, and I expect staff will meld the recommendations into our upcoming biennial budget.

In short, good things are happening, but there’s work to be done to balance our upcoming budget and continue to deliver the high level of service that Mercer Island residents expect.

We welcome your input on the budget or any other community issue, so speak up! Your participation as an engaged citizen makes our city strong. And have a great summer, whatever your plans may be.

Mayor Bassett was elected as mayor in January 2012. He was first elected as a City Councilman in 2007. Reach him at bruce.bassett@mercergov.org.


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