By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
COUNCIL MEDICAL BENEFITS
Up for Sultan City Council discussion Thursday was an Association of Washington Cities option for providing medical insurance to elected officials. Several Sultan residents spoke during the time allotted for public comment to voice their opposition to the idea.
“The city council members were elected to take care of city issues, not feather their beds with benefits that the current councilmembers get to vote for themselves,” said long-time resident and business owner Al Wirta. “If this is a requirement then the city of Sultan needs to drop their membership in this organization.”
The AWC is a private, nonprofit corporation that represents Washington’s municipalities before the state legislature. While membership in the organization is not a requirement, the AWC consistently boasts 100 percent participation from Washington State’s cities and towns.
“If this council approves this, then the members that voted for the taxpayer-funded benefits are corrupt,” Wirta continued.
Council authorization would be required in order to update the city’s current Employer Master Participation Agreement with the AWC’s Employee Benefit Trust to effectively add the coverage. The city’s contribution amount would be based on council’s direction, and a minimum of four elected officials would need to apply to qualify for coverage. The city’s current insurance coverage applies to employees only, both full and part-time.
“I pay for my own medical insurance and I want you to pay for your own,” continued Wirta. “As far as I’m concerned, the city should pay zero.”
During council discussion, Sultan City Administrator Ken Walker stated that, according to the AWC, approximately 25 percent of the cities in Washington do provide health coverage to their elected officials. He also clarified that city-funded medical insurance benefits do not qualify as income, so receiving benefits would not constitute a pay raise.
Per Washington State RCW, councilmembers are disallowed from voting on their own pay raise. This stipulation would not apply should council decide to vote on city-funded insurance benefits.
General council consensus was not in favor of initiating city-funded medical insurance benefits.
Councilmember Rocky Walker stated that he found the idea interesting at first, but was swayed by the public testimony against the concept.
“I heard some compelling testimony out there tonight, and I think these people have a very legitimate concern,” said Walker.
Councilmember Jeffrey Beeler agreed with Walker, but also contemplated the matter in a broader context.
“Could it entice better people to be more committed to a council position, therefore making elections a little more interesting?”
Last year Monroe City Council voted to update their council’s pay scale, in part, to address the issue of having a limited number of candidates during election years. The hope is that, with a slightly better pay incentive, more prospective candidates will turn out to run for council positions. Monroe voted to upgrade their pay scale from a per-meeting basis to a monthly salary.
In Sultan, city councilmembers are paid based on meeting attendance in an amount not to exceed $150 per month.
Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick was absent, as was Councilmember Sarah Davenport-Smith, thus a motion was made to table the discussion of benefits for elected officials until a later time.
MARIJUANA PRODUCTION AND PROCESSING ZONING
An ordinance was passed which established zoning for marijuana-related businesses. The types of facilities allowed are limited in scope; the new zoning allows production and processing businesses only, with no retail establishments currently permitted in the city of Sultan.
A public hearing was held during which one resident spoke in support of the ordinance, with several residents speaking in opposition of allowing production and processing facilities into the city.
“I’ve been a business owner and a resident here for over 32 years and we have had nothing but problems with drugs ever since I’ve been here,” said Al Wirta. “We’ve got enough dirt bags running around here stealing stuff all the time. We don’t need to add to that problem.”
Councilmember Joe Neigel has been long opposed to allowing the marijuana industry in Sultan. Previously, Sultan city councilmembers in opposition held the majority. He commented that since November’s election, a shift has occurred and now they are in the minority.
“This is democracy in action,” said Neigel. “Marijuana is an addictive drug. It’s the number one reason why youth are admitted to treatment agencies in Snohomish County.”
“Most of your money that pays for treatment pays for marijuana treatment for youth,” Neigel continued. “Do we want to enable access through our policy? For me the answer is still no.”
It was pointed out that establishing the zoning is an important precautionary tactic which is necessary regardless of whether marijuana businesses are allowed or not. The city’s current moratorium was set to expire on April 13, and if zoning had not been established, current city code would not have been able to prevent certain garden-based businesses from operating in areas of moderate-density housing.
The city of Monroe, which recently implemented a business license prohibition on all marijuana-related businesses, established zoning regardless of their plans to implement the business license ban. The zoning was a defensive measure, to protect them in the event that they are forced to allow a marijuana business to operate. With the zoning in place, they will at least have some control over where the business is located.
Ordinance 1190-14 regulating marijuana production and processing facilities was passed on a 4 to 2 vote with Councilmembers Beeler and Neigel opposed.
Ordinance 1192-14 was also passed on a 4 to 2 vote with Councilmembers Beeler and Neigel dissenting. This ordinance decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana as per Washington State Initiative 502.
The see the new ordinances and took review the new zoning regulations, visit Sultan’s website here: http://ci.sultan.wa.us/. Review the agenda here: http://ci.sultan.wa.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/April-10-2014-Council-Meeting1.pdf
READ-AT-HOME PROGRAM DOUBLY HONORED
Sultan City Council also recognized the April Volunteer and Business Spotlight recipients jointly last week at Sultan City Hall during Thursday night’s council meeting.
Sultan’s Grants and Economic Development Coordinator Donna Murphy presented Polly Bridgewater as the Volunteer Spotlight for her work with the Sultan Elementary School’s Read-at-Home program. The incentivized reading program encourages students to spend more of their free time reading books.
“After her first year of volunteering she quickly realized there was an incredible potential for growth in the program, but much of that potential lay outside the walls of Sultan School District,” said Murphy. “That’s when she started going out into the community, asking for donations, coupons and other means of support so that she could offer the kids more substantial rewards.”
Kids are encouraged to read for a minimum of 300 minutes per month, and are eligible for prizes when they accomplish their reading goals. Classes with 100 percent student participation are rewarded with popcorn parties. When students achieve their minimum goals for three consecutive months, they are eligible for even greater rewards like special assemblies.
Last month students were able to attend a magic show by magician Jeff Evans. Bridgewater was able to provide the magician through a grant she obtained from Xtreme Consulting in Kirkland. Bridgewater has secured many other donations from local businesses including Sultan Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. David Wendt, who sponsors the Reader of the Month program.
This year, wanting to further enhance the program, Bridgewater decided to implement a Classic Readers Program in an effort to get kids excited about reading classic books. For this, Murphy explained that Bridgewater decided to see if Vick’s Burger Shack would be interested in partnering with her.
Murphy then presented Marc Vick of Vick’s Burger Shack as the Business Spotlight.
Vick’s Burger Shack is owned by the Vick family; Marc, his wife Debbie, and their sons Kevin and Jeff, all of whom are equal partners in the business. Originally considering a hotdog stand, the Gold Bar family settled on a loftier goal and decided to see about renovating the building located at 930 U.S. 2 in Sultan, so that they could open a hamburger restaurant.
The family worked for a year and a half to bring the building up to code in preparation for their grand opening, which took place on March 7, 2013. The majority of the work was performed by Vick’s sons, Kevin and Jeff, who contributed money they earned at part-time jobs to help renovate the building.
Vick’s Burger Shack prides themselves on freshly-cooked hamburgers that are cooked when you order them. They also feature real ice cream and locally-brewed root beer from a family-owned brewery.
When Bridgewater approached them about sponsoring her Classic Readers Program there was no hesitation whatsoever. She warned Vick that she had no idea what the student response would be like and he told her that it was no problem. “You fill their minds and we’ll fill their bellies,” said Vick.
Every student who reads a classic book receives a gift card from Vick’s that is good for a junior cheeseburger meal including fries and a root beer. So far Vick’s has donated over 200 certificates to classic readers valued at over $1,000.
Vick and Bridgewater were both presented with certificates of appreciation signed by Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick.
Bridgewater choked back some emotion as she talked about her work with the Read-at-Home program, stating that it has meant a lot to her to be able to contribute something meaningful to the students at Sultan Elementary School. She hopes to continue to be able to grow the program.
“I just want to keep building it,” said Bridgewater. “The community has been so great.”
Vick commented on the fact that, despite all the cheeseburgers his business has donated, he had only met Bridgewater in person very recently.
“I was really glad to find out this wasn’t just some lady who talked us into giving her 200 of these certificates for free meals,” said Vick.
He joked with council and the audience.
“I’m not going to cry unless I think about how long it took us to open the shack,” said Vick.
In Mayor Eslick’s absence, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Neigel presented the two with their certificates.
Vick’s regularly supports the Sultan School District as well as the schools in Index and Skykomish.