By Chris Hendrickson
Monroe City Councilmember Kurt Goering initiated discussion on economic development this week, presenting council with a first-draft document reflecting a potential mission statement for the city of Monroe. Additionally, the document outlined several possible goals for the city including economic sustainability, connected community and citizen-focused government.
Goering’s draft also included an idea for a vision statement:
“Monroe is a thriving city. We are a family-friendly community of strong moral character, solid values and a caring spirit. We strive to provide the right balance of economic development, housing and open space by offering a well-planned and growing community that focuses on a wide variety of business, educational, cultural, entertainment and recreational opportunities. The adventure starts here.”
Goering led discussion on the importance of maintaining a high level of attention to economic development in Monroe, establishing his opinion that it needed to remain high on the priority list regardless of the fact that there is no longer a staff person dedicated solely to encouraging economic development.
Goering stated that the city’s focus on debt reduction needs to remain a priority as well; in an effort to free up money in the general fund. The city has decreased the bond debt by over $7 million in recent years.
Ultimately, the goal for Monroe should be to reflect “good-for-business” policy which would ensure that the city is economic-development-friendly, said Goering.
He mentioned a few of the recent economic development success stories including the H30 Wakeboard Park, Discount Tires, Natural Factors, Five Guys Burgers, Providence and Walmart; all businesses that have begun, or will begin, to establish a presence in Monroe.
“We made ourselves unique because of out-of-the-box thinking,” said Goering. “I’m hoping that we can continue that with the policies that we put forward.”
Councilmember Jim Kamp agreed with Goering’s point that furthering economic development needs to remain a key ambition for the city.
“The economic development planning has made just an enormous impact on the city,” said Kamp.
“The concept of ‘if you build it they will come’ doesn’t necessarily work,” he continued.
He concluded that the city needs to be continually finding ways to solicit businesses and encourage them to come to Monroe; that the city can’t afford to simply sit and wait for opportunity to present itself. He was also unified with Goering on the topic of city bond debt and the need to remain focused on decreasing that, as well.
“In my case you’re preaching to the choir on this,” said Kamp. “We can’t afford to just not take the steps to make this a thriving community.”
Councilmember Jason Gamble also agreed with the need for economic development, but also expressed that cautionary tactics need to be a part of the process.
“I agree listening and planning are simply not enough to make it happen, but they still need to be an integral part of the process,” said Gamble.
Gamble discussed the need for balance, and to consider the needs of the constituency; ensuring that they be a part of the process.
The timing on the discussion coincided with the city’s current focus on the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update. A community workshop will be held Thursday, Jan. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at Park Place Middle School in Monroe. The workshop will present a forum at which citizens can “bash” the current city vision and work towards adapting it in a way to more accurately portray current conditions, as well as taking a look at where they would like Monroe to go in the next 20 years.
Monroe Planning and Permitting Manager Paul Popelka is helping to facilitate the community workshop. Popelka responded to council regarding concerns over the lack of a dedicated economic professional on city staff.
“Every staff person, every commissioner and park board member and council member are advocates for economic development, every day, in every conversation they have,” said Popelka. “I think it’s important to keep that in mind also.”
Councilmembers Patsy Cudaback and Jeff Rasmussen appreciated Popelka’s opinion on the issue. Cudaback expressed her belief that the city continues to work towards economic development every day.
“I don’t want to give the impression that, because we don’t have a staff person that has that title, that economic development isn’t happening or takes a back seat,” said Cudaback.
The city’s Economic Development Manager Jeff Sax was laid off in January.
HEARING EXAMINER OPINION ISSUANCE
Council very briefly discussed the hearing examiner’s opinion on Initiative 502 and whether or not cities are able to effectively ban marijuana businesses.
Monroe City Attorney Zach Lell gave a brief summarization which included details on the opinion. He established that yes, according to the opinion, cities can in fact enforce a ban on marijuana businesses via local ordinance. Additionally, they are not prohibited from producing highly rigorous zoning regulations which would essentially make the establishment of marijuana businesses impractical.
“Both questions were answered favorable to local regulatory authority,” said Lell. “From the city’s standpoint, it’s actually very good news.”
Lell than cautioned council that, while the attorney general’s opinion is persuasive, it is not binding in court; it does not establish precedent in the same manner as a recorded appellate decision.
He also stated that there are some marijuana advocacy groups who have officially expressed disagreement over the attorney general’s opinion.
“They’re not rolling over without a fight,” said Lell. “This is a story that continues.”
A public hearing will be held on marijuana-related issues Feb. 4 at the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. at Monroe City Hall.
CITY ACTION DAYS
Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, City Administrator Gene Brazel, City Clerk Elizabeth Smoot and Councilmembers Cudaback and Gamble will be traveling to Olympia next week for the Association of Washington Cities legislative conference.
In addition to hearing from Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, city officials will get the opportunity to attend presentations and interact with local legislators. The event is held annually during the legislative session.
County-wide issues include advocating for education and workforce training, transportation and infrastructure, and competitiveness on a county level.
Monroe council discussed items of priority which directly relate to the city including the U.S. Highway 2 bypass and the Streamline Sales Tax bill which was devised as a method for simplifying sales tax collection. Unfortunately, it meant a drop in revenue for municipalities like the city of Monroe, whose budgets are heavily reliant on sales-tax revenue.