Letters to the Editor, Oct. 24, 2018

Letters to the Editor, Oct. 24, 2018

Prop 1; library board

It is Simple: Vote “Yes” for Prop 1

Are we willing to pay a dollar a day to maintain essential services that support our safety, city services, and school system—all of which support our property values? That is the proposition before us in Proposition 1. All the debate about scary percentages only muddles a simple issue: on average it’s a dollar a day per family.

Over 5 years, the increase may rise to less than a dollar fifty a day. That’s about the price of a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

As you study the issue,

please keep two points in mind: First, some of the objections we hear conflate Proposition 1 with other city government issues. While some residents may have differences of opinion in other areas, blocking Proposition 1 is not the effective way to address those issues. Second, times are relatively good now — now is when we need to building up reserves for future downturns.

Over the last 30 years my wife and I have been active community volunteers and raised three children on Mercer Island. My career includes an MBA and 40 plus years of business experience and military service. After studying both sides of the Proposition 1 debate, questioning members on the Citizens Advisory Group, and attending the debate at the Mercer Island Beach Club, it’s clear to me that Proposition 1 is a prudent approach to sustaining essential services.

In the end we are faced with a simple proposition: Are we willing to pay a dollar a day to prudently sustain our property values and this remarkable community? I hope so.

Jim Stanton

Mercer Island

Island support for I-1639

The Mercer Island community has been energized about preventing gun violence on the island. Several dozen volunteers collected about 5,000 signatures for Initiative 1639. Mercer Island now has a PTA sub-committee for preventing gun violence. The Facebook parents group discussing gun violence prevention has 70-plus members. Hundreds of MIHS students walked out of school to protest gun violence in America. MIHS students have created a podcast for KUOW discussing gun violence prevention.The PTAs of all the MISD elementary schools, Islander Middle School and MIHS have all endorsed and support Initiative 1639. About 68 percent of the 320-plus MISD parents who have responded to the PTA survey ranked gun violence prevention as their number-one priority!

Sixteen-year-old high school students and 60-plus year old retirees collected signatures for 1639. Dozens of mothers and fathers gathered signatures at community events, at gas stations, at baseball games, at swim meets, at our farmer’s market, at Starbucks, at the Park & Ride, and grocery stores, at Pride Week and Fremont Fair. Mercer Island is really behind this initiative and we encourage everyone to support it and vote for it because we need to send the Legislature, city council and school board a message – we care about taking strong action against gun violence.

The I-1639 campaign collected 378,000 signatures in an incredibly short period of time because frivolous lawsuits delayed the start of signature collection. We were able to collect so many signatures because I-1639 has a lot of support its sensible changes to gun laws that could help decrease the likelihood of mass shooting in places like Mercer Island. such as:

—- Raising the age to purchase semi-automatic assault rifles to 21.

—- Creating an enhanced background check for semi-automatic assault rifles, similar to what is required for handguns. This includes a local law enforcement check of the most up-to-date local court, criminal, and mental health records; a 10-day waiting period; and the completion of a firearm safety training course within the last five years, none of which happens today for semi-automatic assault rifles.

—- Requiring completion of a firearm safety training course within the last five years. The training would include basic safety and secure storage rules, safe handling, and an overview of state and federal firearms laws.

—- Creating standards for Dangerous Access Prevention. These standards hold gun owners accountable if a child or other prohibited person accesses and uses an un-securely stored firearm to hurt themselves or someone else.

Please vote for Initiative 1639

Sarah Ford, Leah Gale, Daniel Fleming, Bharat Shyam

“You can’t squeeze blood out of a rock.”

This is an old saying my mother used (her generation had so many). It means you can keep trying to get what you want out of a depleted source but it isn’t going to work.

It came to mind in thinking about Proposition 1 to increase local property taxes and maintain City services.

Trust your neighbors

The way I see it, we live in a great city, beautiful and safe. Besides some of the fastest response times around for fire and police, we have wonderful parks, counselors in schools, a rich array of recreational and social services, care for our open spaces, trails, a swimming pool, and a farmer’s market.

I would not like our xity to be any less than it is now.It wouldn’t be worth the pittance that would stay in my pocket (about a buck a day).

As a planning commissioner (a volunteer – and speaking for myself only here), I see the city staff close-up on a regular basis. They knock themselves out. They deserve our support rather than a starvation diet. What really frightens me is losing some of our great staff. It happens. Moreover, because of my involvement, I’m well aware of the ways in which our city plans to become even better in the coming years. Nip that in the bud without additional funding.

City manager Julie Underwood and finance director Chip Corder have undertaken due diligence to examine budget issues and present the information to the city council and the public. A 23-member Citizens Advisory Group, many of whom I know and respect, voted 17 to six to support a levy lid lift. An independent expert, Steve Toler, of management partners, Inc. confirmed the city’s analysis. The city council carefully reviewed and voted to send the issue to the voters.

Can we trust these individuals that we elected, or whom were appointed or hired by people we elected, and so on? Are they good for a buck a day? I would definitely answer “Yes,” and I hope you will too. It’s a small ask to keep the wonderful amenities and life we have here on Mercer Island.

There are great sources of information to help you decide. You can take a look at the ballot measure on the King County Elections Department website. It will reassure you that you will not experience a 45% property tax increase as the campaign in opposition erroneously asserts. The City website and mailers summarize the financial situation and decision to pursue a levy lift. I recommend that you read the Islanders YES website, in particular the Blog which includes a rebuttal to former Councilman Mike Cero’s “vote no” recommendation. It gets to what I consider to be misinformation circulating about Prop 1. There really is quite a bit to know about this budget stuff. I think the opposition is presenting hunches and speculation.

I hope you’ll join me in voting “Yes” for Proposition 1.

Carolyn Boatsman

Mercer Island

Voting important

More than ever, voting matters. Our country, and even our island, feels divided and polarized in ways that I have not experienced before. Participating in our democracy through respectful and thoughtful engagement is the antidote to this discord. So please do your research, talk to your neighbors about what matters to your community, and send in your ballot.

And because I think we need leaders who will bring us together, I will be voting for My-Linh Thai for our State Representative. I had the chance to talk at length with My-Linh about her history of service in the PTA and on the Bellevue School Board and why she is now running for Washington State office. I was struck by her compassion for families, her commitment to the well-being of all children, and her clear understanding of the issues. I believe she would be a representative who understands the importance of data-driven policy, as well as the need to work with people on both side of an issue to make our state a better place for all families. Please consider joining me in voting for My-Linh.

Robin Li

Mercer Island

Support Prop 1

I am writing to express my support for Proposition 1, also known as the levy lid lift. I believe the measure is necessary for the financial stability of our city. It will support the many programs and services our city provides which make Mercer Island such a wonderful place to live.

While quite a few numbers and statistics have been thrown around by both sides, the decision for me boils down to these two questions: 1) do we believe our city when they tell us we will need additional funds over the next six years (the period of this measure), and 2) are we willing to invest in our city? My answer to both is “Yes.”

During my 18 months on the city council, we managed the last biennial budget, while setting the budget for current one. This process requires tradeoffs among our city’s many priorities, as well as providing for unforeseen circumstances. As we reviewed the “wish lists” for both capital and operating budgets, there were many more worthy projects than resources for them.

This will become even more acute without additional funding as costs are rising faster than revenues. The city council is limited to a 1-percent rate increase per year, and costs of things like health care and the booming Seattle/Bellevue economy has impacted a number of areas of city spending.

Our city is staffed with eight people per 1,000 citizens. This is the second-lowest ratio for any comparable neighboring city. While there is always room for improvement in operating efficiency, this number represents a pretty tight ship.

Because we are a bedroom community without a large business tax base, our city is heavily dependent on property taxes. Yet of the property taxes we pay, only about 11.6 percent goes to the city of Mercer Island directly. Thus, when proposition 1 raises the city’s taxes about 25 percent in the first year (only rising to 45 perecent in year six of this measure), this translates into a 2.9-percent increase in our property taxes. While any new taxes impact our personal budgets, at an average of about $30 per month for the median-valued property.

The taxes we pay to Mercer Island ensure the quality of life for all of our citizens. I believe our city is worth investing in, and I hope you will agree.

Jeff Sanderson

Mercer Island

Senior program cuts?

We cherish this community – whether it be public safety, our senior services, our parks, our Community Center, our school counselors, our ballfields, playgrounds and pool, the Thrift Shop – the list goes on. We truly have a City that works. We are supporting Proposition 1 because we firmly believe that paying $1/day more to keep these services – to keep Mercer Island the community that we helped build and want it to remain – is worth it.

In 2018, our City government will run a deficit for the second year in a row. We don’t see the impact of it right now because surpluses from prior years were prudently saved to have funds available that could cover these projected deficits. Going forward, the deficits will increase and our reserves will be exhausted. For many years, our City avoided this day by finding new efficiencies, but one can only squeeze so much before there is nothing left. As the reserves are exhausted, the City will have no choice but to cut more and more services. The City cannot legally spend what it does not have.

Beginning in 2019, the lost services will start with staff reductions and other savings that would mean:

Reducing the hours of the geriatric family counselor.

Reducing maintenance to our streets, parks, ballfields, and playgrounds.

Cutting Community Center programming.

Canceling City events such as Summer Celebration (including the fireworks), Music in the Park and support for community events like the Farmers Market.

The next round of cuts will be more painful, especially for seniors. Senior services, being truly discretionary, are likely to be at the top of the list. Many of us have benefitted from the work of our geriatric counselor, Betsy Zuber; think about what it would be like if she was no longer here. What about Senior Adult Transportation Services, Wednesday Grocery Shopping, Meals-on-Wheels, the Foot Care Clinic, Senior Lunches, Fitness Programs – the list goes on. These services affect our quality of life and allow many of us to continue to live on Mercer Island.

Once the discretionary cuts are completed, then the City’s essential services are next, with parks not being maintained or even closed, streets not being fixed, police patrols reduced, emergency medical response times increased, school counselors eliminated, Community Center hours pared – community changing cuts that would put our City at risk. An outside expert has confirmed that without this levy, 25% of City staff will need to be laid off over the next 6 years.

Contrary to the signs you see, there is NO “Another 45% tax increase.” Keep in mind that:

Property tax increases on existing construction, without voter approval, are limited by law to 1%/year.

Voters have not been asked to increase City property taxes since 2008 – the Parks Levy – and that increase was in the single digits. Once again, there is NO “Another tax increase.”

The increase is not in your entire property tax bill. Only 11.6% of your total property taxes go to the City government. In fact, by the end of the six years, Prop 1 will have caused your total tax bill to go up only about 5%.

Increased assessed values do not generate any extra money for City government. State law requires the City to REDUCE the tax rate to offset any increase in assessed value.

What really matters is not any percentage but the fact that the average homeowner will pay about $1/day over the 6-year levy term if Prop 1 is passed and every one of those dollars will go directly to the City.

The question for all of us when we vote on Proposition 1 is whether we are willing to pay that $1/day to keep Mercer Island the special place we all want it to be. We say YES!

For more information, visit www.islandersyes.com and our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/islandersyes. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Fred Jarrett

Sr. deputy county executive, former mayor and state legislator

Myra Lupton

MI Citizen of the Year

Jane Meyer Brahm

Former City Councilmember and former editor of MI Reporter

Terry Moreman

Retired executive director of the MI Chamber of Commerce

2017 Citizen of the Year

Alan Merkle

Former mayor and city councilmember

Linda Jackman

Former city councilmember

Rand Ginn

Former school board member

Dan Grausz

Former deputy mayor and city councilmember

Mercer Island Library at Risk

Mayor Bertlin and City Manager Underwood are determined to suppress and ignore citizen input regarding our Library.

1. In 1992-1993 Islanders considered whether our Library should be annexed into the King County Library System(KCLS), which required a public vote. A key issue was the legendary lack of responsiveness of KCLS to local concerns.

2. KCLS guaranteed to support a Mercer Island Library Board that would directly represent the City Council to KCLS. Mayor Elliot Newman speaking for the Council, promised the appointment of that Board to protect Island interests. With these commitments in mind Islanders voted to join KCLS

3. The Council subsequently reneged on their promise and disbanded the Board in 1995.

4. In 2014 Mercer Island was faced with closure of the Library for approximately a year so that a unnecessary and unwanted remodel could be accomplished which would have destroyed the ambiance of our community designed library. KCLS provided no justification other than they wanted our library to more closely resemble other KCLS libraries.

5. A citizens group collected thousands of signatures in support of our library and petitioned Council to restore a Library Board to represent the interests of Mercer Island Citizens. Consequently, Council approved a board that was Chaired by former Mayor Brian Cairns and the Library was saved.

6. Despite opposition from the sitting Library Board, Mayor Berlin and City Manager Underwood intend to let the Board “sunset” and cease to exist after 31 December 2018 leaving Mercer Islanders voiceless and powerless regarding a library that is heavily utilized and enjoyed by so many and for which pay almost $6 million per annum in taxes. (It costs KCLS less than $2 million to operate)

7. This is portrayed as a cost saving measure. When Bertlin was presented with examples of 8 other library boards, including Bellevue, that meet twice a year and require no City involvement or expense as minutes are taken by the Board and presented to City Council, Bertlin’s response was “doesn’t matter, the decision has been made.” Made without Citizen input.

8. The cost saving argument is put to lie by the fact that the City intends to stand up a Parks and Rec Board that will require City involvement and for which, an individual has been hired at an expense of $75,000 per annum to coordinate the activities of the new Board. One of the purported responsibilities of the Board will be the Library.

9. When Bertlin was asked by the existing Board if there would be a board member who would represent the interests of the Library her response was “there will be no constituencies on the board. For instance, we don’t want those “Playfield” people” Huh?? It’s Parks and Rec. The Board will presumably be chosen by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

10. The mayor went on to state that if there were matters involving the library a citizen could always make an appointment and speak to the Parks and Rec Director.

KCLS currently has a Director who most kindly can be described as disengaged. There are elements within KCLS staff who remain bitter over the successful defense of the Mercer Island Library by it’s citizens. Though enjoying a significant surplus, KCLS intends to go to the voters with yet another Levy. In the face of this, the Mayor and City Manager intend to leave our Library and it’s users unrepresented and unheard.

This begs the question in two ways:

1. What does the Council and City Government see as their role? This example clearly suggests they seek to manage the City exclusive of citizen input except for those carefully chosen who agree with it. In this case it is unclear if there is anyone who arees with it.

2. To what degree is this an exercise of fiscal responsibility? It simply expands a city department that takes more time and resources and adds to the complexity of the department. Once again we see funds expended in support of CC and CM pet projects with no regard for expense involved or efficiency. A Library Board structured like Bellevue’s and 7 other nearby communities would make City Government more inclusive at minimum expense and provide a safeguard for OUR Library for which we so dearly pay.

A community Library Board benefits MI residents, City Council and City government.

Carv Zwingle

Mercer Island

Levy lid lift debate disappoints

I suppose that is the nature of today’s contentious politics, but the opportunity missed to understand our city government will haunt us for years to come.

Opponents of the levy make absurd assertions about both the proposed rate of increase and our neighbor’s opposition. Yet the proposal comes from the neighbors we elected to oversee our city government.

Opponents assert that “efficiencies” should proceed taxes. Let’s look at the record. In the last decade, the city’s property tax has increased by $3.5 million, a compounded growth rate of 3.1 percent. Adjusted for “new” services we citizens have voted to add (maintaining Luther Burbank Park and a new Fire Station), our general tax levy increased only $2.8 million or a compounded growth rate of 2.5 percent.

What does this mean about efficiency? One measure of improvement would be to benchmark the city’s performance against the region’s economy. A good measure would be what’s happening to the cost to deliver services (inflation) and demand for those services (population growth). For Mercer Island, that increase has been about 3.5 percent, meaning that the city has beat the growth of costs and demand by a full percentage point, a good indicator of efficiency.

It should be noted, as well, that the assessed value of our homes has increased by over 6 percent per year over the same time. Our property tax limits, in fact, have forced efficiency by disconnecting the revenue a city can raise from the value of the property in the district.

The levy presents a choice not between efficiency and taxes, but between services and taxes. A levy failure will reduce those services that make Mercer Island is a special place, the community we choose to call home.

I urge a “Yes” vote when you fill out your ballot.

Fred Jarrett

Mercer Island

Voting “No” on Prop 1

Three simple reasons:

First, the levy lift does not solve the spending problem, just postpones the day of reckoning.

Second, despite advance notice of impending deficits from city finance staff, the city ignored the warnings, and continues to spend prolifically.

Third, there are plenty of unexplored cost-saving opportunities to close the deficit without a tax increase.

Peter Struck

Mercer Island

Support partnership

Concern abounds over the city’s proposed cuts of two elementary school mental health counselors beginning in 2019 if Proposition 1 does not pass. Mercer Island Youth and Family Services counselors in schools are regarded as beneficial, indeed “essential,” by most residents.

Opponents of Prop 1 declare the school counselors can be preserved without passage of Prop 1. To understand why Prop 1 is the only option on the table that can guarantee the school counselors, and other YFS services, will be saved for the next six years requires an understanding of how MIYFS services are funded.

Mercer Island offers a unique full-service social service department funded both publicly and privately. In 2018, YFS obtained funds as follows: Property taxes plus $343,000 of surplus funds allocated by the city (34 percent); Thrift Shop profits (39 percent); Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation and direct private donations (17 percent); grants from the school district and others (4 percent); and fees for service (6 percent).

Nearly half of the city contribution to YFS last year comprised surplus funds, but surpluses have dwindled and can’t close the 2019 YFS budget gap. The Thrift Shop and foundation cannot fill that gap immediately. Although city council could reverse the city’s recommendation to cut school counselors in late 2019, it must produce equivalent savings from elsewhere.

Those savings cannot come from capital funds, dedicated reserves, revenue streams for utilities, or cuts in essential services. They may well come at the expense of other YFS services, deemed “nonessential” by lawor recreational services that complement YFS services.

The public-private YFS partnership has thrived for thirty years. Foundation and Thrift Shop donors, customers and unpaid volunteers hold up the private side of the bargain. Prop 1 spreads responsibility across all taxpayers to help the city hold up the public’s part of fully funding social services that everyone wants and most benefit from at some point. Five percent tax growth on property over six years is a small price to pay for a priceless benefit.

Tanya Aggar

Heather Emery

Alice Finch

Reiner Fink

Pam Hinnen

Julia Hokanson

Jody Kris

Katherine Lamperti

Robin Li

Jenny McPherson

Replace pipes first

Mercer Island has over 100 miles of aging water lines and sewer lines that are past their useful lives. It will take a long time to replace them all, perhaps 25 years. And it’s projected to cost at least $100 million. The city council called water line replacement a 2018 priority — four years after the E. coli outbreaks that necessitated boil orders — but they have done nothing to actually make it a priority. Instead of asking for a vote on a bond to pay for replacing the old pipes, they put Proposition 1 on the ballot. If Prop. 1 passes, not one penny of those taxes will go toward replacing water and sewer lines.

Currently, 70 percent of the city’s budget goes for salaries and benefits for city employees. The city has added at least two employees this year, and 22 employees in the prior seven years. Only three of those 22 have been due to DSG’s increased workload on new construction permits. Proponents of Prop. 1 say they need more money to keep employees’ salaries competitive. If taxes go up to pay for city staff, it will be more difficult to pass a bond for the water and sewer lines.

Ensuring a clean and reliable water supply is crucial to life on our island. Tell the city council to put our tax money into preserving the water supply first, so they can prevent another E. coli outbreak without pouring so much chlorine into our water.

Another year has gone by with the city council filing to prioritize clean water.

I’m voting “No” on Prop. 1.

Doris Cassan

Mercer Island

Protect library

In 2014, when King County Library System (KCLS) planned closure of our Library for over a year for an unwanted and unnecessary remodel, our library board represented citizen interests, and the community library that the community loved was saved and renovated following citizen directives. (without the input and persistent pressure of our library board, our library would have neither the automatic book handling return system, nor our drive-up book drop, nor many other well-loved and functional elements of our Library.)

Our city council has decided to terminate our library board, calling this decision a “cost saving measure.” However, as was pointed out to the city council during Appearances on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the library boards of at least eight other KCLS libraries do not require any city involvement or expense.

Rather than protecting our Library with a library board, the city manager and city council plan to include responsibility for our library in the mandate for a new Parks and Recreation Board, without even a board member selected to represent the interests of the library.

Sunsetting our library board, the maintenance of which would cost the city zero dollars, is shortsighted and leaves our library vulnerable to the regional decisions and interests of KCLS, rather than in the hands of our Island’s readers.

Sharon Smith

Mercer Island

Are citizens wasting their time in Focus Groups?

On Tuesday, September 29, my husband and I attended the Focus Group on “Trails” at the Mercer Island Community Center to give our input regarding trails for the Aubrey Davis Park Master Plan to the Parks and Recreation Department. (As a frequent walker and hiker, I am a regular user of Mercer Island, regional, national, and international trails.) According to the City’s “Let’s Talk” website, “The Aubrey Davis Master Plan Process will include an extended community engagement process running until the Fall of 2019. You’ll have the opportunity to participate in community meetings, surveys and more.”

After the Focus Group orientation, participants were divided into two clusters of about a dozen each. We were asked to focus on the question of how the trail, which is used by many various constituencies, could best be laid out.

Our cluster focused on the safety concerns of multi-use by commuter cyclists and pedestrians. The City’s paid consultants (HBB Landscape Architecture) suggested that the “path” be 14’ wide pavement with 2’ wide—or wider—crushed rock shoulders on each side. However, our cluster recommended narrower pavement with commuter bikes being routed to a designated bike path along North Mercer Way (NMW) and West Mercer Way (WMW), as the biking community prefers (because this would allow increased speed and would avoid pedestrian interference and trail debris—like wet leaves—that collects on the park trail and is hazardous to bikers).

When the two clusters came together at the end of the Focus Group session, the consensus was to recommend construction of a commuter bike path along NMW and WMW so that the Aubrey Davis Park trail would not need to be so wide—to benefit both commuter bikers and trail users.

However, this Tuesday, October 16, the Parks and Recreation Department submitted a report to the City Council rejecting the consensus of our Focus Group and recommending the construction of a “14’ wide paved trail with 2’ wide crushed rock shoulders.” (As a reference point, the width of a lane on a federal interstate highway is 12’. Our “trail” would be 1½ times as wide as this—virtually a paved lane wide enough for oversized vehicles with 2’ (or wider) gravel shoulders on both sides—running the entire length of our PARK.)

Safety considerations alone should preclude the folly of this decision, made in spite of citizen input from the Focus Group and also suggestions made in written responses to the City’s survey (such as “Bikes in separate trail from walkers – speeding bikes a hazard to runners, walkers, kids on bikes, babes in strollers”).

In addition, widening the “trail” to create a virtual road through our park requires the removal of vegetation and trees, thus further reducing the parklike ambiance that residents treasure.

Do citizens need to lie down in front of the bulldozers to get our City to listen our ideas, to address our concerns, and to work towards consensus regarding our recommendations?

Meg Lippert

Mercer Island

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