Monday, September 12, 2011

Greenways: Show Me The Money!

I came back home early to attend today's City Council deliberations on the purchase of the entire Chuckanut Ridge property.
Unfortunately, the results were both predictable and substantially unsatisfactory, although the Council did agree to 'separate its actions regarding an Acquisition Ordinance from a Repayment Plan' - essentially opting to kick only a PART of the can down the road.
Hard for me to separate these topics, since they are inherently inseparable, but that's the temporizing placebo being offered by our often logic-challenged Council.

Without detailing my take on the proceedings and positions expressed in greater detail now, I will defer that until later.
But, rest assured, there will be more posted on this matter.

For those interested, here are my [cleaned up] remarks given during the Public Comment time:

City Council Members;

Tonight, your agenda states that you will consider voting upon an Ordinance that legally binds the City of Bellingham to purchase the subject property for a price of $8.23 million, plus ancillary costs directly associated with the purchase, which is presently set for closing on or about September 29, 2001 - about two weeks hence.

Please be careful about what you may pass tonight, because very clear & explicit language is necessary, both to explain your actions to the public and to protect the City's interests.

Even attending and listening carefully at this afternoon's Finance Committee discussion did not satisfy this critical concern to any real degree.
If I have doubts and questions unanswered, you can be sure many other citizens have them as well.

The Mayor addressed the 'confusion' among our community this afternoon, without ever acknowledging his role in creating this confusion.
Apparently, Council were not so 'confused' when they authorized the Mayor to initiate this purchase process, although now, some members may have become more aware of the widespread concerns being expressed.

There is good news and bad news here; the good news is that this property is preserved for City ownership and eventual use as an additional asset to our system of parks, trails & open space.
The bad news is the City has insufficient acceptable funding available to cleanly complete the purchase.
A deficit difference approaching $3.4 million or more is not a small deficiency!

Murphy's Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will - mostly at a most inappropriate time.
A corollary to this is that rushed and unclear decisions greatly speed up things going wrong!
That's what is happening here, unfortunately.

As far as clarifying the proposed Ordinance language, here are the concepts I suggest:

• Make this purchase to be made completely from Greenways 3 funding, plus any related funds specifically intended for this purpose, like Parks Impact Fees, etc.
A possibility of obtaining additional funds dedicated to Greenways 3 also exists, including but not limited to the following: future sale of a portion of the property purchased, gifts & donations, sale of property rights such as development rights [TDRs], timber rights, mineral rights, etc.

• Under no circumstances allow the use of other scarce City funds be used for this purpose, including but not limited to the General Fund, Rainy Day & Reserve Funds, and any future Greenways levies should they come to pass, etc.
If you do not specifically state this, these funds will most certainly need to be used.
Not acceptable, especially under the fiscal pressures that now exist!

• Greenways 3 funds tentatively allocated for other areas of the City need to be respected as closely as possible, with the understanding that 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' is not acceptable!
Such overages that might occur should also be corrected later in the event of future Greenways levies.
The Greenways endowment fund is critical to sustaining our Parks and should be restored asap.

These clarifications ought to clear up much, if not all, of the 'confusion' -as the Mayor calls it- over this acquisition.
The Council has an opportunity to make this property purchase much more palatable to our entire community, but only if these common sense ideas are incorporated into the Ordinance so that officially, the City will a definite repayment plan!

Please review these roles & responsibilities:

• The Council sets City Policy & approves all funding not officially budgeted

• The Mayor is charged with carrying out City Policy & respecting the rules & regulations in so doing

• City Staff has the duty to perform the necessary actions & tasks as outlined by City Policy & directed by the Mayor.

Council, this is your problem to resolve & it will be better for you to do it now, not later!

Do not opt to 'kick this can down the road'!

Do the right thing without additional delay and do not be 'jawboned' into silly, temporizing measures.
Otherwise, you will likely reap a whirlwind of citizen discontent.

The City has exhibited good fiscal restraint during the past few years, and you are to be commended for that discipline!
Don't risk that excellent track record on this potentially divisive issue!

I wish you well in these endeavors.
So do all responsible citizens, voters & tax-payers.

John Watts

I neglected to report the Council voted to pass an amended ordinance, 5-2. [Weiss & Snapp opposed]
3rd & final passage likely to happen at the September 26 meeting.