By Sally Gillie, Monitor
There’s been a dramatic shift in the development approach for North Kelsey, and Monroe city council members got their first look at the revised design guidelines last week.
The updated guidelines are a much lighter document, reflecting the fact that a good chunk of the design plan, policies and site maps originally adopted in 2003 and updated in 2007, have been taken out.
Gone are the sections related to public open space, a civic plaza, village green, and a pedestrian network.
“There have been some wholesale changes,” said Monroe’s planning and permitting manager Paul Popelka, who presented the revised guidelines to the council on Oct. 9. These changes, he said, reflect the reality that North Kelsey development has not headed in the direction set in that 2003 design plan.
“We’ve for the most part taken out sections like site configuration, site planning, building orientation and land uses,” said Popelka. “The short version is what we’ve kept; basically our architectural guidelines for building design, and landscape guidelines/standards.”
Also removed were sections on signage and lighting because these will be incorporated into the Monroe municipal code, as part of the new sign code update that will be completed later this year.
The changes to the city’s comprehensive plan in 2012 have played a large role in the design updates. Those plan amendments, approved last July, have changed the goals and policy for North Kelsey, taking out language that calls for a wide range of businesses and a mix of uses that encourages pedestrian activities, and acknowledging the development that has occurred or is proposed will be determined by market demand.
After looking over the updated guidelines, the council decided to push back its calendar for the first reading of the new North Kelsey ordinance until Oct. 23. This gives them a week to consider public input after the Oct. 15 public hearing. The council had been scheduled to hear a first reading of the new ordinance on Oct. 16; a timeline that was questioned by council members Patsy Cudaback, Jason Gamble and Jim Kamp.
“I’m concerned about the timing,” said Cudaback, who pointed out the public hearing on school mitigation fees was also scheduled for Oct. 15. “There are substantial changes in these design guidelines,” she said. “I would prefer, with the public hearing on the 15th, to not have the first reading of the ordinance on the 16th, but bring it back on Nov. 6, or the next council meeting; that would be my preference,” she said.
Council members Jason Gamble and Jim Kamp agreed. “It would give us some time to digest feedback,” said Gamble.
2013 budget has 14 percent hike in sewer rates, 5.6 percent hike in water
Council members took their first look at the preliminary budget for next year, which included a summary statement from Mayor Robert Zimmerman. He called the 2013 budget a “hold-the-line budget, in that there are no new programs, and expenditures are being kept to the same levels as in 2012, despite some cost increases that are beyond our control.”
City Finance Director Dianne Nelson related the positive news there are no layoffs or furloughs for city staff.
The budget includes utility hikes for residents, most significantly a rise in sewer rates. Sewer rates are budgeted to go up 14 percent for both residential and commercial customers, according to Nelson. That increase is to pay down the debt for the city’s new wastewater treatment facility, which will enter its third phase of construction next year.
Water rates are also going up. Monroe gets its water from the city of Everett, and an increase in water costs will be passed along to residents, who can expect an increase of 5.6 percent in their water rates.
Overall, general fund city revenues are expected to increase by about 1 percent, and overall expenditures should decrease about 2 percent, according to the preliminary budget.
In Zimmerman’s budget letter, he highlighted the main capital improvements next year, which are the phase three improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, the Fremont Street construction, new sidewalks on Powell Street, and intersection improvements on Old Owen Road and U.S. 2.
Zimmerman also noted that this past year the council adopted a formal reserve policy “to protect the city’s assets and demonstrate good stewardship of public funds,” and also established a contingency fund.
In 2013 the city is proposing two uses for the contingency fund; $300,000 to pay for updating the non-transportation elements of the comprehensive plan, and $25,000 for the innovative partnership zone program that is part of the city’s economic development plan.
Jeff Sax, Monroe economic development director, gave a brief summary of the partnership. “Right now we’re working with Sultan, Gold Bar, Index and Snohomish, in a port-to-pass recreational economic area,” he said. “We’re working towards the idea we’ll use recreation assets — the Index wall, fish hatcheries, Wallace Falls, the hiking trails, our cable park, the rivers. And what we can do is use our recreational assets as an incubator, or testing facility for small companies that have a new idea that want to test market a product.”
At the end of his four-page budget letter, Zimmerman summarized, “There are many exciting things on Monroe’s horizon. It is hoped that Walmart will begin construction in 2013. The new medical building in the North Kelsey area will begin construction, as well. The city hopes to move forward with the new cable park on Lake Tye. And new homes are once again being built in our city.”
A copy of Monroe’s 2013 budget can be accessed online through the city’s website, or any interested resident can get a free copy at city hall.
The council held its first discussions on whether to raise property taxes in the city by 1 percent, a rate increase that would mean owners of a $200,000 home would see a tax increase of roughly $3 for next year. The 1 percent increase is the maximum amount that the city council can increase the levy.
In 2012, Monroe’s property tax levy was $1.96 million, so a 1 percent increase represents $19,626 dollars that could be collected from property owners. New construction, which is levied at the previous year’s tax rate, also plays a role in determining the tax rate because it increases the city’s overall assessed value. Last year, the assessed value of new construction brought in $2.8 million.
By approving this small property tax increase, it means the city could avoid the necessity of having to raise taxes more substantially down the road.
“The cumulative effect is small for the individual home owner but large for the city,” said City Finance Director Dianne Nelson.
Further discussions on the property tax levy will be held Nov. 6 and Nov. 11. The first reading of the ordinance to set the property tax ordinance for 2013 will be Nov. 6. The city council needs to approve this year’s property tax levy schedule by Nov. 30 to be in compliance with the county.