By Sally Gillie, Monitor
Property taxes won’t be going up in Monroe next year.
The city council decided against exercising its option to raise property taxes by 1 percent, the maximum allowed under state law.
The one percent increase would have raised $19,626 in revenue for the city, but council members agreed it was not a good time to put a heavier property tax burden on citizens. “In talking to residents, I think it would be wise to go without the 1 percent increase this year,” said council member Patsy Cudaback.
Residents will see increases on their water and sewage bills, however. Those hikes will show up on the first utility bills of 2013, which residential customers receive in February.
The 14 percent sewer rate hike being passed along to customers is to pay for major upgrades and improvements to Monroe’s wastewater treatment plant facility.
Water rates are also going up 5.6 percent. That’s a direct result of a price increase of 7 percent being charged to Monroe from its water provider, the city of Everett.
What residents won’t see in 2013 is a hike in garbage fees, even though the city’s garbage contractor, Republic Services, raised its rates to the city in 2012. Dianne Nelson, Monroe City Finance Director, said those fees will be absorbed through a combination of a fund balance, reduction of service staff to the city in 2012, and the change from a curbside spring clean-up to a centralized community event. That event will take place again this coming spring.
Last year’s decision by the council to adopt a formal reserve fund policy, said Nelson, “shows good stewardship of public funds.” The reserves accommodate unexpected operational changes, adverse impacts from state legislation or changes in the economy.
Robert Martin, president of the Monroe Rotary Club, was the only citizen to come forward during the public hearing for the 2013 proposed city budget.
He thanked the council for the $50,000 contribution to the Rotary in the proposed budget, and said that money would go toward the last major component of Miracle Field; the construction of a restroom and a concession stand building. Martin said he can’t promise that project will be completed next year, but they are proceeding with the city’s help, looking at grants and community fundraising to generate an estimated $80,000 of additional money needed to complete the construction. He gave special thanks to Mike Farrell, Monroe Parks and Recreation Director, for his help and involvement with the Rotary this past year regarding the project.
North Kelsey stormwater ponds
City staff will be looking at alternatives to draining stormwater in the North Kelsey area, with the intent of filling in two retention ponds and creating a new saleable commercial lot.
The two stormwater ponds located at the southeast corner of North Kelsey were designed to provide a drainage area for water runoff from the Lowe’s store, part of Chain Lake Road and Tjerne Place. But Lowe’s has been able to handle its own drainage on-site, so now the ponds are oversized for their needs, said Monroe Public Works Director Brad Feilberg. Installing an infiltration system to re-channel the drainage would cost about $250,000, according to city estimates, but with the property valued at about $1 million, city staff believe it would be a good investment.
“The two ponds are way oversized for their intent,” said Monroe City Administrator Gene Brazel. “We have an opportunity here to make a decision in the best interests of North Kelsey, and better utilize the property we have.”
The city council directed the staff to look at alternative locations to handle the existing stormwater run-off.
Chain Lake five acre rezone
The city council voted to uphold an ordinance that limits the type of housing that can be built on five acres on Chain Lake Road just north of Mountain Ridge Road.
At the request of a developer, Mr. Hanson, the city council was asked to reconsider its zoning ordinance that calls for retirement housing or assisted living single family homes. Hanson has purchased one of the three lots on the acreage and is in the process of buying the other two lots.
That restricting zoning ordinance was adopted in 2010 when the three building lots on the acreage were rezoned for a higher density usage, MR 6000, which allows up to 11 housing units per acre. That rezone was contingent on a developer’s agreement for senior housing as a way to appease nearby residents who felt it would have less impact than single family residences with no age restrictions.
Former Monroe council member Tony Balk testified at the Nov. 13 meeting. “I was on the council at the time,” he said. “The intent for that rezone was for senior housing only. If you do anything else you will need to have another public hearing so that people in that community will have a clear idea that there will be a major change.”
Council member Patsy Cudaback said the ordinance that was passed regarding this should take precedence over a potential buyer.
After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to uphold the existing ordinance, and inform the buyer accordingly. Mayor Robert Zimmerman and council member Kurt Goering were absent, with council member Tom Williams serving as mayor pro-tem.
U.S. 2 Improvements
Fred Walser, of Snohomish County Citizens for Improved Transportation, reported that the results of the Nov. 6 elections has stunned those who support U.S. 2 safety improvements and the U.S. 2 bypass.
Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the state transportation committee, and Representative Mike Armstrong of Wenatchee, both strong supporters of these improvements, were defeated Nov. 6. “This has put our efforts back to square one, and it’s very disconcerting,” Walser said.
He said there will be continued efforts to support both of these projects, but said money is a challenge. “There are zero dollars in the budget,” he said.
Walser said he recently returned from Sweden, where he traveled on a two-way road system very similar to U.S. 2, and was very impressed with a triple cable barrier system that ran down the middle of the highway, with solar LED lights set in the pavement. “At night, it looked just like an airport runway, and it’s just what we need on U.S. 2,” Walser said. He said he got out his camera and began taking photos.
Walser believes that cable barriers would be a cost-effective solution to preventing crossover crashes between Snohomish and East of Gold Bar.
Lastly, Walser updated the council on the coal train traffic that would have significant impact on Monroe.
“All the emphasis has been on the north and south traffic from Seattle to Bellingham, but they return back home through Monroe, with nine a day to start,” he said. “This will increase rail traffic through here substantially, and it’s something the city needs to take a hard look at.”
“The Snohomish County Community for Improved Transportation is drafting a letter right now in opposition to the proposed coal trains,” Walser said. He also said the projected nine trains a day that would run through Monroe would double the following year, and the year after that. “That’s a lot of trains through our intersections,” he said. “We already have 23 trains a day through here.”
He encouraged the city to take a position on the coal trains and participate in the conversation going on, including a regional meeting taking place at the Seattle Convention Center on Dec. 13.