Sammamish officials have a serious transparency and credibility problem.
The side-by-side comparison of the 2014 and 2016 Six Year Transportation Improvement Plans (TIPs) shows what appears to be creative “book keeping” to present a financial picture that is rosy when it’s really not. Sammamish Comment also reviewed prior TIPs to compare projects and projected costs.
Sammamish Comment spent this week dissecting the TIPs for the Readers. The issues are these:
- Four long-standing transportation projects in Sammamish, with consistent projected Total Project Costs through several TIPs, suddenly show project cost reductions of 26% to 42%. These projects have identical descriptions from one TIP to the next: additional traffic lanes, bike lanes, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. These dramatic cost reductions can’t be explained by declining construction costs. What’s happened? City officials need to explain.
- The aggregate cost reductions equal $22.5m.
- The major, new project inserted into the 2016 TIP is the widening of Issaquah-Fall City Road along the full length of the east side of the Klananie annexation area. The cost of this is $23m. The decline of legacy Sammamish projects, nearly matching the Klahanie project, hardly seems coincidental.
- Reducing the legacy Sammamish projects and the assumption the City will receive $20m in grants over six years allows the TIP to be forecast to remain in the black by 2021–but barely, just a $107,000 ending fund balance. If any grants aren’t received, the ending fund balance goes into the red. If legacy project costs are restored, the ending fund balance goes into the red.
- The reduction of legacy funds, and the assumed grants, enabled the City Administration and the majority on the City Council to boast no new debt will be required to fund the roads.
- City officials initially said the Klahanie project will require bonded indebtedness. City Manager Ben Yazici tried to explain this away by throwing his staff under the bus: I wasn’t here when that statement was made and it shouldn’t have been made, he told the City Council when Member Ramiro Valderrama pressed the point.
That dog increasingly won’t hunt. There’s a “now you see it, now you don’t” show happening with the legacy Sammamish project costs. There’s a “now you see it, now you don’t” element on the Klahanie bonding.
Valderrama has tried all year to have an open, Council public discussion of the road projects in Sammamish and for Klahanie and how these will be paid for. The Council leadership, comprised of Yazici, Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay, consistently refused to to put such a meeting on the agenda. Valderrama hasn’t been able to muster four votes to bypass the leadership to put the topic on the agenda because Vance and Huckabay are backed by Members Tom Odell and Bob Keller, the so-called Gang of 4.
The persistent refusal, all year, to have a discussion begs the question: Why not? What is being hidden?
Yazici wrote Council Member Nancy Whitten Aug. 5 that a discussion can be held “whenever the Council wants,” and that in November might be a good time to do so.
November, of course, is after the election November 3.
There is another issue: the Administration and City Council vowed that annexing the Klahanie area wouldn’t have a negative effect on Sammamish services and our citizens. Playing games with the legacy project costs and funding affects legacy citizens.
At this point, we don’t know the truth and we don’t know the answers.
There are important questions about the “now you see it, now you don’t” legacy project costs and the “now you see it, now you don’t” Klahanie bonding costs.
More serious is the stonewalling and lack of transparency.
What is very transparent, however, is this: election year politics is behind the stonewalling and lack of transparency on the TIP.
It’s time for this to stop.
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