Japanese Gulch won’t make November ballot

By Sara Bruestle | Aug 07, 2013

Although the City Council is still undecided, Mayor Joe Marine expects the city will make an offer to purchase land in Japanese Gulch this year.

All seven councilmembers want to buy the last 97 acres of undeveloped land on the border of Mukilteo in Everett, but they are divided on whether to ask voters to OK taxes or instead issue councilmanic bonds, which circumvents voters.

The council on Monday again agreed to wait to make a decision on whether it will put another measure on the ballot, asking either for an advisory vote or an OK to fund land acquisition by issuing bonds for up to $2.5 million.

Councilmembers said they don’t want to decide yet because there are still too many “unknowns” – namely, how much would need to be covered by the bonds.

Mukilteo is still in negotiations with owner Metropolitan Trust, now with the help of the independent land trust Forterra. An appraisal of the land is also in the works.

The delay at least means there won’t be another measure on the November ballot. The deadline for that was Aug. 6.

Now that the council has held off twice on putting a proposition on the ballot – they also didn’t put it on the August ballot – the mayor said the bond issue probably won’t go to voters.

“I think it’s too late now,” Marine said. “The council will have to come up with a decision. I think the whole thing will be over by the end of the year.”

Mukilteo is in a time crunch to acquire the land: Metropolitan Trust is bankrupt and has been court ordered to sell the property by 2014. If it isn’t sold to the city, a private developer may get it.

In the meantime, the city has been looking into ways to fund the estimated $6.3 million purchase.

The city has identified $4.5 million in funds to help pay for the land, including $800,000 from Snohomish County, $1 million from the state, and another $220,000 in city funds.

It is also asking for another $2.5 million from the county, but staff won’t know if it got the grant any sooner than Aug. 21, maybe later.

“I’m uncomfortable doing anything with two major variables,” said Council President Randy Lord. “We don’t know if we’ll get the $2.5 million grant, and we’re not sure of what the value of the property is.

“We should wait until we know exactly what we have to spend our money on.”

Either type of bond – voter approved or not – would cover the shortfall.

If the council does want the bond issue to go to the ballot, it will need to decide soon. Councilmember Jennifer Gregerson said there is still time in 2014.

“It’s certainly still possible,” she said. “There are a couple of special elections next year, and the August and November elections.”

A ballot measure last year asked voters for up to $3.2 million to help purchase the last 97 acres. It received more than 58 percent of the vote, but failed to get the required 60 percent supermajority.

The Japanese Gulch Group opposes putting another measure on the ballot.

Arnie Hammerman, president of the group, said the city doesn’t need to ask again. He said it already got its advisory vote in the 58 percent.

“Even though we didn’t get the supermajority to pass the measure, the majority spoke and said ‘We want to save this property,’” he said.

“If we don’t act fairly quickly, it’s going to be sold to developers, and it’s going to be lost forever. We’ve gotten regional support from the state, from the county – now is the time to figure out what Mukilteo can bring to this.”

Not all councilmembers are in agreement.

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

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

Right now, however, the council agrees that this is the time to wait.

“We need to see how some of this process works itself out, and what the final numbers are,” Councilmember Richard Emery said. “Then we’ll take appropriate action at that time.”

“Being sensitive to the citizens who are concerned with taxes, I think we can make this happen, but certainly not through a ballot.”

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