By Sally Gillie, Monitor
The Monroe City Council did not reopen discussions on lowering school mitigation fees at its Oct. 2 meeting, but they did learn the city has overcharged builders more than $900 in school impact fees in the past year.
The overcharge, explained Monroe Public Works Director Brad Feilberg, happened because the city did not amend its fees resolution in 2011 after it adopted the Monroe School District’s capital facilities plan. That oversight resulted in an overcharge of $940 collected from 16 building permits.
The council discussed the best way to go about refunding the money, which has already been disbursed to the Monroe School District. The refund, they said, should be made to the homeowners of the 16 properties on the assumption that the cost of impact fees would have been incorporated into the price they paid for their homes. The council directed city staff to look into the matter of retrieving the money from the school district so the money can be refunded.
The council will resume deliberations on the proposal to lower future school mitigation fees on Nov. 6.
Currently, builders of new homes in Monroe are paying 75 percent of the assessed school impact fee, an amount determined in the school district’s capital facilities plan to offset the costs of adding each new student to the school population. The city is proposing to lower that rate to 50 percent, which would match the mitigation fee discount rate charged in unincorporated Snohomish County.
If that discount is approved by the council, builders now paying $2,976 per single family home would be pay $992 less, or $1,984 per home. Money collected from those impact fees goes to the school district for capital projects such as new buildings, remodeling to create classroom space, purchasing portables, and purchasing land for additional schools.
The council also is considering amending the city’s comprehensive plan to take out language in that plan that explains why the city deviated from charging the same mitigation fee as in Snohomish County, and the council’s desire at that time to make new growth pay its proportionate share of the impacts on the school district. It also removes a section in the comprehensive plan that talks about the school district capital facilities plan.
During that portion of last week’s council meeting reserved for public comment, the issue of school impact fees was addressed by resident Vickie Mullen.
Mullen, a local merchant and member of the citizens’ group, Monroe Citizens for Responsible Growth, said she hopes the city’s decision-makers will ask questions and get a full understanding of how Monroe compares to other areas when it comes to mitigation fees. “I think there’s far more information that’s available on both sides of this issue,” she said. “The planning commission was given a comparison with Snohomish schools, but that’s just one school district.”
Mullen called for a comprehensive study of all the areas in Snohomish County, and looking at all mitigation fees, not just schools, but impact fees charged for parks and transportation. That way, she said, citizens can know “when a developer comes to Monroe, are they truly paying more than in other parts of the county?”
Monroe Citizens for Responsible Growth has published an information sheet with facts about the impacts of reducing school mitigation fees, urging residents to let the city council members know their feelings on the issue, and to support the Monroe School Board and ask them to formally oppose the reduction of impact fees.
A public hearing on mitigation fees and the comprehensive plan amendment will be held Monday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m., during the meeting of the Monroe Planning Commission.
Visitor’s Information Center
The Monroe Visitor’s Information Center is heading in a new direction, one that won’t require a physical location to keep the public informed about local businesses and special events. While keeping a “brick and mortar” presence through local businesses that will distribute brochures, the new online visitor information format will focus its resources on tourism promotion through a website it hopes to launch before the end of this year.
“We’ve shifted our delivery,” said Annique Bennett, executive director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. She said the new online communications platform will “be a lot more than a website with links. It will be showcasing opportunities for consumers who come here, engaging them with Monroe.”
In doing so, Monroe will join other cities with active websites promoting activities and lodging available in their cities 24 hours a day, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
At the Oct. 2 meeting, the city council voted unanimously to grant the chamber the remainder of its visitor information funding for the year, $6,750, toward development of the new online visitor program.
Meanwhile, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce has relocated its offices to 108 E. Main St., Suite 206.
Senior Center has new 40 year lease with the city
The city council authorized Mayor Robert Zimmerman to enter into a 40-year lease agreement with the East County Senior Center at Sky River Parkway. The center’s current 20-year lease with the city will expire in 2014. By offering a longer lease period, the senior center board of directors has an improved ability to secure loans and make long term decisions. The yearly rent of $1 will continue as in the past.
Marc Avni, executive director of the East County Senior Center, thanked the council for the new lease, and for all the positive interaction with the senior center during the six years he has served as director. He especially thanked Monroe City Administrator Gene Brazel for his efforts on behalf of seniors. He said the city has shown it knows how important it is to provide for people as they get older.
“I know they are aware that these are the folks who helped build this town and are still very active in this community,” Avni said. “It’s nice to know we have the stability of a long term relationship with the city.”
As part of the lease agreement resolution, the city affirmed that the senior center provides a valuable community resource to its growing senior citizen population, and that many of these seniors subsist on a fixed or a low income, suffer from chronic medical conditions, and otherwise require community support.
City extends two-hour parking in downtown area
The two-hour parking zone in Monroe’s downtown commercial area is about to get bigger. The council approved extending the two-hour parking restrictions to include along Blakeley Street north to Hill Street and on the south side of Hill Street between Blakeley and the alley west of Blakeley. These restrictions apply Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The extension of the two-hour parking area was prompted by a request from the owner of the Allstate Insurance Agency who said the limited parking would make it easier for his customers to find parking when visiting his agency.
Block grant application for Elizabeth Street sidewalk
The council approved the city staff to go ahead and apply for a Community Development Block Grant to construct a sidewalk along Elizabeth Street between Kelsey and Madison Streets.
The project, which would be funded completely through the block grant, would construct a five-foot wide sidewalk that would be 800 feet long, connecting existing sidewalks and providing an important link between 49 low to moderate income residences and necessary services.
The city council met privately in executive session with Zach Lell, Monroe city attorney, to discuss an agenda item listed as a “complaint or charge brought against a public officer or employee.” The council did not take action or discuss the matter during the open portion of the meeting, but directed city staff to put the matter on the council agenda for Oct. 16.