Council debates how to pay for gulch

By Sara Bruestle | May 08, 2013

The City Council has yet to decide whether it will put another measure on the ballot asking voters to OK taxes to acquire land in Japanese Gulch.

The delay at least means there won’t be a proposition on the August ballot – the deadline for that is May 10.

The council is looking into putting a measure on the November ballot, asking either for an advisory vote or an OK to fund land acquisition by issuing bonds for up to $2.5 million.

Councilmembers could also decide to instead circumvent voters by taking out councilmanic bonds, which are paid for by taxpayers.

The council agreed Monday to hold off on a decision until the city knows exactly how much the land would cost – and how much would need to be covered by bonds.

On the last ballot, Mukilteo Proposition 1 had asked voters for up to $3.2 million to help purchase the last 97 acres of undeveloped land located on the Mukilteo border in Everett.

Prop. 1 received 58 percent of the vote, but failed to get the 60 percent it needed to pass.

Since the measure didn’t pass, the city has been planning other ways to fund the estimated $6.3 million purchase. Mukilteo is in negotiations with owner Metropolitan Trust.

“We have heard from the voters,” Council Vice President Jennifer Gregerson said. “We had a vote and 59 percent said we should invest in preserving Japanese Gulch (Official tally: 58.52 percent in favor; 41.48 percent opposed).

“I don’t see a need to go back to the voters and ask them the same question.”

Mukilteo, however, is in a time crunch to acquire the land: Metropolitan Trust is bankrupt and has been court ordered to sell the property by 2015. If it isn’t sold to the city, a private developer may get it.

The city already has $800,000 in grants and has identified $3.5 million more in state and local grants.

The council voted unanimously on Monday to authorize Mayor Joe Marine to sign a contract with the independent land trust Forterra to assist in the negotiation and purchase of the gulch for parkland.

The city would pay Forterra no more than 4 percent of the purchase price, or about $240,000.

Forterra, formerly Cascade Land Conservancy, has partnered with Mukilteo in acquiring the gulch before, applying for grants.

Gregerson supports issuing councilmanic bonds in 2014 and using some of the city’s banked capacity to pay for it. The city’s has $318,000 in “banked” property tax.

Councilmember Linda Grafer said she wouldn’t support any bonds unless they are voter approved.

“We’ve already used councilmanic bonds to fund the Rosehill Community Center,” she said. “I’m not willing to take a gamble on another debt.”

Several councilmembers didn’t want to risk it by putting a measure on the August ballot because it requires a 40 percent voter turnout, or about 4,500 voters, for the results to be certified.

They do think, however, that they’ll get the required voter turnout for a November ballot measure. The deadline to get a measure on that ballot is Aug. 6.

Councilmember Richard Emery said another reason to avoid the August ballot is to give supporters more time to launch the “Save the Gulch 2.0” campaign, headed by the Japanese Gulch Group.

“There’s not a lot of time to launch an effective campaign now until August,” Emery said. “I’m concerned what our options would be if we sent another request out and it failed.

“There is discussion of councilmanic bonds, but I think we would have a hard time moving forward on that.”

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