By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
A tied vote Tuesday killed a proposal to cut the fees that developers pay to the Monroe School District in half.
Up for a vote last week was a Comprehensive Plan amendment of the amount of the discount offered to developers, which is specified within Monroe Municipal Code.
Mitigation fees are collected from developers as a method of offsetting the expense that new residential development will eventually cost the city through an increased need for city services. Mitigation fees are collected in support of schools, streets and parks. Historically, as a way to ease the burden to developers and encourage new residential growth, the school mitigation fees have been discounted by 50 percent.
In 2002, Monroe reduced the discount to 25 percent due to a swiftly-growing school population. The smaller discount enabled them to collect a higher percentage of the fee, which is based on a mathematic formula established by Snohomish County.
The city’s recommendation was to reestablish the 50 percent discount in an effort to offer incentive to developers and promote residential development. The school district and the school board have expressed opposition to increasing the discount, citing the need for additional schools to be constructed in Monroe in order to accommodate the number of students.
In addition to being behind on maintenance, Monroe schools are nearly all at capacity, relying heavily on the use of portables. Currently, over 900 students are being educated in portables.
During the mitigation fee discussion on Nov. 26, Councilmembers Gamble, Cudaback and Hanford were interested in maintaining the 25 percent discount. Councilmembers Tom Williams and Kurt Goering expressed a desire to see the discount returned to 50 percent. Councilmember Jim Kamp did not participate in the discussion at that time, and Councilmember Davis was absent.
Williams spoke on behalf of the increased discount amount, as he did on Nov. 26. He pointed out that Washington State RCW dictates that the school district mitigation fee usage must demonstrate a balance between the fees and other sources of public funding. The code specifies that they are not to rely solely on the fees.
“I find a conflict there, before we even start talking about whether the discount should go up or down,” said Williams.
His argument was that, if the school district is advocating for maintaining the lower discount so that they can purchase additional portables, they are essentially utilizing the funding in a way that does not comply with the terms outlined in the RCW.
Cudaback acknowledged the RCW but did not agree with Williams’ position.
“This, to me, is bridge funding. It is not fully funding their capital needs,” said Cudaback.
Williams clarified that he had not said that the mitigation fees funded the district’s capital “needs.” He stated that the fees currently make up nearly 100 percent of their capital facilities budget, which is not how they are intended to be used.
Cudaback maintained her position, stating that the school district has attempted to obtain capital funding, most recently through a bond measure in 2010 that was voted down.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” said Cudaback. “They’re constantly looking for ways to get more money for the community.”
“There’s lots of issues around funding right now. I do not think this is the time that we then cut the fees they’re currently receiving that act as bridge funding to have portables to put kids in,” continued Cudaback.
With Gamble’s absence, the ordinance received a tie vote. Cudaback, Hanford and Kamp voted to maintain the 25 percent discount. Davis, Goering and Williams voted to increase the discount to 50 percent.
Per Washington State law, a mayor is disallowed from participating in any vote on an ordinance, which prevented Mayor Robert Zimmerman from being able to break the tie. As a result, the ordinance died.
The item will be brought back with an alternative option for council to consider. The current amendment stipulates that the discount amount can only be revised again after two years have passed. During discussion, Williams stated that he might be willing to consider leaving the discount at 25 percent, but not for a time frame of two years.
“Two years is an awful long time,” said Williams.
City staff was directed to draft an alternative ordinance which would maintain the 25 percent discount, but remove the two-year time frame stipulation, enabling council to initiate a change at any time.
The measure will be back on the table at the Dec. 17 council meeting, at which point council will waive council rules and procedure, potentially allowing the ordinance to pass on a first and final reading.
EMERGENCY MARIJUANA ORDINANCE
Council waved normal council rules of procedure in order to pass an ordinance which, in addition to banning medical marijuana collective gardens, also establishes a moratorium on the processing of business license applications for all marijuana-related uses.
In effect, the moratorium disallows marijuana-related businesses from being able to obtain a license to do business in the city of Monroe due to the fact that both marijuana possession and use remain a violation of federal law.
The moratorium encompasses all marijuana-related businesses, including processors, producers and retailers.
A public hearing will be held on the matter on Jan. 14, 2014.