Since January, the Mercer Island City Council has been discussing and finalizing its 2018-2019 goals and work plan, with a draft document suggesting that the top priorities will be to address mobility, the budget, sustainability and the arts.
The council said that it also needs to discuss the city’s aging infrastructure, enhance emergency preparedness and address outdated codes, policies and practices — though those may not make the final document — which will come back to the council on March 20 for approval.
City Manager Julie Underwood said that the council’s goals send a message to the staff and community about what’s important, as “what gets measured gets done.”
Mayor Debbie Bertlin spoke about the council’s proposed work plan at the March 1 Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce meeting, and said that though economic development is not specifically mentioned as a goal, the council is looking forward to working with the business community to address that and other issues. Bertlin is optimistic about the year ahead, which she said will be one of action.
To help the council accomplish its goals, city staff drafted several “action steps” for each priority. For example, for the goal to “prepare for light rail and improve on‐and‐off Island mobility,” the city will “partner with the community to identify best solutions for safe and effective bicycle and pedestrian connections to the station,” “pilot first/last mile solutions (ride share, micro‐transit, bike‐share, etc.),” “identify site for long term parking solution for Island residents” and “work with the State Delegation and Congressional Representatives to identify and implement state and federal remedies to improve access to I‐90,” to name a few.
According to the draft goal document, the city is planning several public outreach processes over the next few years to get input on light rail, parking, the city’s financial challenges, a sustainability plan, parks, the Mercer Island Center for the Arts and tree canopy.
It’s a long list, and seemed overwhelming to some council members at the initial reading.
Councilmember Wendy Weiker suggested that the city focus on four or five priorities.
After starting with seven goals at its Feb. 20 meeting, the council discussed combining portions of some priorities and scrapping others. Underwood said that there are things that will get done regardless of whether the council makes it an official priority or not, for example, updates and plans that are mandated by the state. And some of the action steps were driven by staff rather than the council, such as the proposal to allow alcohol for certain Parks and Recreation functions.
Council members couldn’t agree on whether the list should be aspirational or a checklist by which they could measure their performance next year. The group is also considering adopting a new framework — the STAR Community Rating System (STAR) — to help the city gauge its progress on certain goals.
STAR was pushed by Councilmembers Dave Wisenteiner and Tom Acker and Deputy Mayor Salim Nice. Nice said there was wide support to adopt it at the council’s planning session on Jan. 26-27. Councilmember Bruce Bassett suggested that the council have a study session on STAR, which would give those who aren’t as familiar with the framework an opportunity to catch up.
Underwood said some goals and action steps that may not seem glamorous — like adopting the city’s general sewer plan and updating the critical areas ordinance — were included because the council has expressed a desire to be more proactive. Much of the Island’s infrastructure was built around the same time, in the 1950s-70s, and will need to be replaced soon. The old pipes may have been a contributing factor to the E. coli event in 2014.
“When an organization is reactive and driven to put out the latest ‘fire,’ it means there is little energy or time left to update regulations, policies, practices, processes and technology that help to prevent and avoid ‘fires,’” according to the draft document. “Addressing these issues has now turned from a ‘nice to do’ to a ‘must do,’ and requires the attention of council and staff.”
According to the council’s agenda bill, “some of the goals are multi-year in nature and the long-view must be kept in mind,” and “some of the action steps will require additional resources if the objective is to complete it within a reasonable time frame.”
After approval, city staff will develop budgets, capital improvement plans and departmental work plans aimed at accomplishing the community’s vision and council goals.
See www.mercergov.org/CouncilMeetings for more.