City spending dominates council meeting

City likely to use banked property tax capacity
By Brandon Gustafson | Oct 03, 2018

It was all about the money for Mukilteo City Councilmembers at their Monday, Oct. 1, meeting, with travel expenses, a payment to the Snohomish Health District, and Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s preliminary budget dominating the evening’s discussion.

The two-and-a-half hour session included a lot of back and forth and disagreement among councilmembers over how some city money should be spent.

 

Snohomish Health District

 

Differences began early, during the consent agenda when, typically, all items get passed without much, if any, discussion. But one item in particular stood out: a $20,000 payment to the Snohomish Health District.

During last year’s budget discussions,, the council allotted $20,000 for the Snohomish Health District.

The council approved their budget with $2,271 needing to be cut in order to balance it.The council put that job in Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s hands, who cut $1,000 from the city’s large item pickup program, and the remaining $1,271 from the health district, reducing it to a $18,729 payment.

At a previous meeting, Council President Steve Schmalz said he wanted to fulfill the council’s original agreement. He echoed that sentiment during Monday’s meeting.

Schmalz was upset the $1,271 had been pulled in the first place.

“What I find interesting on this, and kind of troubling about the pulling of that funding to balance the budget, is I don’t think it was necessary,” he said. “After it was announced that that money was pulled, the mayor buys $2,200 worth of furniture for her office, which could have gone to the health department.”

Schmalz said the Snohomish Health District initially had asked for $1 per Mukilteo resident, which would be just over $21,000, and wanted to get closer to that amount.

Councilmember Bob Champion asked to pull the item from the consent agenda to discuss it further, and questioned whether paying the extra $1,271 was necessary.

Champion asked whether the city was currently over budget for 2018 – which Gregerson said they were – noting the Snohomish Health District was doing fine within their own budget.

Council Vice President Christine Cook, who was not present at the meeting but phoned in, is heavily involved with the Snohomish Health District, and also wanted to see the city meet its initial obligation.

Champion found the health district had a net income of over $160,000, and again asked if giving them more money was necessary.

“Do they need that money from Mukilteo?” he said. “Have we given enough for them to meet their needs for this year? The way I look at it based on their budget, we have.”

Councilmember Scott Whelpley, frustrated with the amount of time they spent discussing the issue, said with the 2019 budget discussion on the horizon, there will be plenty of time to find the extra money they’re giving the health district by reducing costs in other areas.

“There’s plenty in here (the budget) that we can find to fill here,” Whelpley said.

After further discussion, Schmalz made a motion to approve $20,000 for the Snohomish County Health District, which passed 6-1 with Champion the only “no” vote.

 

First budget hearing

 

Later in the meeting, Gregerson gave her 2019 preliminary budget address, saying she once again was presenting the council with a budget that is balanced and a reflection of Mukilteo’s ideals and values.

State law requires that the city present the preliminary budget by Nov. 1, with adoption needing to take place by Dec. 31.

Mukilteo Finance Director Michelle Meyer said they are on track to pass their budget by Nov. 13.

Gregerson said the city will continue funding school resource officers and assuring that Mukilteo first responders have necessary training and equipment, and that the city will fund resources for victims of crime.

For some, the biggest surprise was that Gregerson planned on using the city’s property tax banked capacity to balance the budget. She said residents have saved millions over the last decade by the city not exercising this taxing authority.

Whelpley said he wanted to see if they needed to exercise the full banked capacity, or if they could use just some of it.

Meyer said doing so would cost households an average of $57 more in property taxes for the year.

The next budget discussion will take place on Monday, Oct. 15. The preliminary budget is also available for viewing on the city of Mukilteo’s website.

 

City travel

 

The final item on the agenda was related to travel policy for elected officials and city employees Discussion focused primarily on money spent on meals with city credit cards, and the amount they’re allowed to spend per night on lodging.

Schmalz and Whelpley felt if the amount exceeds $150 per night for lodging purposes, that it needs council approval.

Whelpley said a former employee attended a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, and spent around $300 per night for a four-night stay, which he felt was unacceptable.

He also questioned a lunch tab, where over $200 was spent on fish. Councilmember Anna Rohrbough said Gregerson, Management Services Director Steve Edin, and former Policy Analyst Marko Liias attended that lunch.

The city’s “per diem” for lunch is $18, and Rohrbough felt the group had violated the city’s policy. Gregerson said it complied with the city’s meals with meetings policy. She did say, however, that she wouldn’t do something like that again.

Councilmember Richard Emery said he felt in the dark about some of the information his fellow councilmembers were presenting, and he couldn’t respond without seeing those numbers.

Emery noted that there have been past improprieties regarding the mayor spending money, but felt the council needed to separate the individual from the office.

“We need to think about the process that we wish to introduce or reaffirm independent of the individual who currently occupies the position of mayor,” he said.

Disagreeing, Whelpley said it was their job to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent properly. He suggested Emery was dragging the discussion along, and wasn’t sure what he was trying to achieve by seemingly doing so.

Councilmember Rohrbough didn’t feel they were micromanaging by implementing council approval for things like this, but since it had to do with city spending, it was their duty.

Emery said he understood that past policies have been abused, but wasn’t sure what would stop this new policy from being abused as well.

By 6-1, the council OK’d the new travel policy requiring that mayor, management services director, and councilmember travel would need approval from the Council President or their designee if it exceeded $150. The mayor and management services director also can approve travel expenses for each other as well as members of council.

Emery voted against it.

 

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