The Mercer Island City Council’s 2018-19 goals and work plan were on its April 3 agenda, and in adopting them, the council committed to focus on mobility, the budget, sustainability, arts and culture, emergency preparedness and city policies.
The council worked with many groups to develop its priorities, but the local Chamber of Commerce noticed an omission in the draft goals before last Tuesday’s meeting. The group was “concerned about the absence of a broad, high level goal to support local businesses and to improve the business climate on Mercer Island,” according to an email to members.
The chamber wants the council to add a goal to “create policies that support an accessible and healthy business ecosystem on Mercer Island.”
According to the agenda for the April 3 meeting, the council did express interest in having a goal related to economic development and Town Center at its January planning session. Council members Tom Acker and Benson Wong volunteered to serve on an ad hoc committee, and worked with the chamber to develop a goal and action items.
Based on the chamber’s input, city staff proposed adding language under the goal to “maintain quality of life and essential services and infrastructure by addressing the city’s financial challenges” about supporting local businesses “by working closely with the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce to evaluate and address parking in the Town Center and to identify strategies designed to attract, retain and sustain the business community.”
Some businesses opposed the proposal, arguing that economic development should be a stand-alone goal. The chamber noted that a vibrant business environment “preserves (and hopefully grows) [the] current business tax base,” which would help the council achieve other goals, and “protects quality of life for current residents.”
Even businesses that rarely wade into politics asked Islanders to contact their city representatives.
“While some may argue that the goal of a healthy business ecosystem really cuts across many of the existing goals and should be reflected in the action steps under the existing proposed goals, we would disagree and argue that experience has shown us that goals, priorities, and focus are lost that way,” according to a message to the community from Island Books owners Laurie and Victor Raisys. “We strongly believe that a goal for developing an environment for a healthy, vibrant business ecosystem on Mercer Island should sit alongside the current proposed goals for mobility, quality of life, sustainability, arts and culture, infrastructure, emergency preparedness and city codes, policies and practices.”
Wong proposed adding a seventh goal to the city’s list to support local businesses, as the community needs “thriving businesses that meet the needs of Island residents,” with action items that include addressing parking and permitting.
Council member Bruce Bassett said that the city can affect the business environment with its codes, but otherwise has a limited role in economic development without a significant investment of time and money. Still, he said that the council should listen to the frustrations of the chamber and business owners.
City Manager Julie Underwood said that the city indirectly helps with economic development by supporting the Farmers Market and other events in Town Center designed to draw people to the downtown businesses.
The council decided to adopt the new goal, and continue the discussion between the city and chamber. The full set of goals passed 7-0.
2018-2019 city priorities:
Goal 1. Prepare for light rail and improve on-and-off Island mobility.
Goal 2. Maintain quality of life and essential services and infrastructure by addressing the city’s financial challenges.
Goal 3. Deepen the city’s commitment to sustainability and livability.
Goal 4. Preserve, promote and enhance Mercer Island’s focus on arts and culture.
Goal 5. Enhance city and community emergency preparedness and planning.
Goal 6. Update outdated city codes, policies and practices.
Goal 7. Create policies that support an accessible and healthy business ecosystem on Mercer Island.