City mulls 2nd Japanese Gulch bond measure

By Paul Archipley | Jul 25, 2013

Facing a ballot measure deadline on the one hand and a court-ordered sale of Japanese Gulch property on the other, Mukilteo city leaders spent Monday mulling their options for preserving the gulch as open space.

In a brief presentation, Finance Director Scott James said the city has cobbled together about $4.5 million from various sources to buy 98 acres of open space in the gulch, including $800,000 from a Snohomish County Conservation Futures grant, $1 million from the state, and about $219,000 from the city Municipal Facilities Fund.

The city is seeking another $2.5 million from Conservation Futures, but that funding isn’t yet secured.

The unofficial asking price is $6.3 million; city officials are awaiting the results of an appraisal this week, which they will discuss in executive session in August.

James presented a range of scenarios the city might consider in asking voters to agree to a tax increase to cover the remaining needed funds should the appraisal and negotiations result in some number close to the asking price.

For example, he said, were voters to approve a $1 million bond to be paid off over a seven-year period, it would cost the typical homeowner about $1.36 per month more in property taxes.

At Monday’s work session, the mayor and councilmembers kicked around ideas about whether – and when – to put the issue to voters.

Should a council majority decide to go forward with a vote in the November general election, they would have to do so before Aug. 15, the deadline for putting issues on the ballot.

The citizens’ organization Japanese Gulch Group opposes that plan.

Paige DeChambeau, executive director of JGG, said they feel there are too many unknowns.

“The board would like to wait until we know more, and what kind of action the city is going to take,” she said.

DeChambeau said they’re hopeful the sale price will be less than $6.3 million.

However, a judge has ordered that the property be sold in 2014 as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.

If the issue doesn’t go on the November ballot and the asking price doesn’t come down appreciably, the city might face the cost and challenges of a special election early in 2014.

Some councilmembers expressed confidence that voters would approve a bond measure if shown how tantalizingly close proponents are to securing the necessary funds.

A healthy majority – more than 58 percent – gave a thumbs up in November 2012 when a previous bond measure asking for about $3.2 million came up short of the 60 percent super majority needed for passage.

“We’ve had so much money come in we can show residents we’re not relying only on the voters,” Councilmember Emily Vanderwielen said. “I’d like to assure residents we’re looking after their best interests.”

Mayor Joe Marine noted that even if the ballot measure failed, the city could still take the funds it has in hand to buy more land. It currently owns about 46 acres at the north and south ends of the gulch.

Or, perhaps the sellers might be so eager to unload the property they would consider taking what the city offers.

“I have no problem with going to them with $4.5 million and saying, ‘This is all we’ve got; take it or leave it,’” Marine said.

Asked their opinion, audience members were divided. One resident, a regular user of the gulch, urged the council to do all it could to buy the land.

Others, like former councilmember Charlie Pancerzewski and Planning Commissioner Jim Brice, urged caution.

Pancerzewski, noting there has been little discussion or consideration of ongoing costs should the property be purchased, said, “The people have already spoken on this. The city ought to be spending more on streets, sidewalks and other needs.”

Brice, a retiree, said, “Every time we come around, there’s another new tax.

“People on fixed incomes can’t have all the niceties.”

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