City Council indecisive about how to approach future growth

By Harry Shedd

Special to Sammamish Comment

The Sammamish City Council appeared indecisive during the council retreat about future growth in the city.

Should the “bedroom community” vision continue into the future or will future generations demand change in our vision?

Should the Town Center receive more of the city’s future growth or should the city continue with current “throughout the city” plans?

Should council members seek out resident input or go with their “best understanding”?

Where’s the vision?

The moderator observed that if there is no vision nor plans to complete the vision,  the future will be made for us. Innovation requires risk. A younger generation will guide the future and most of them are risk takers. Much today is “instant gratification” and it is not possible to meet such demands but they will demand it, he said.

No decisions were reached. The nature of future growth will have an important impact on city finances and whether new taxes are needed or road projects are redefined.

Budget review

City Manager Lyman Howard gave an overview of the city dollars. He indicated there is an “easy way to complete the budget or it can be done in a much more detailed and longer fashion,” based on what the council wants.

Director of Finance Aaron Antin noted that the budget is a plan but it is also the law. He outlined the time periods that had to be met, the different aspects shown in pie chart form, general sources and uses of revenues for the city, and the “fluid aspect” of the developing budget and its assist in preparing for the next biennial budget.

The debt/capital/operating portions of the city finances will be apparent in formal charting and presentations.  The operating portion of the annual budget (some $30m) received virtually all of the questions and answers. The “crossover point” was mentioned but quickly discounted as not a major issue.

It was noted that some capital dollars could be moved into the General Fund but that most cities do not do so and Sammamish has, in the past, decided not to do so. It was mentioned that the city does not currently charge a Utility tax and that it is not unusual to see 30% of revenues come from such a tax.

Some council members posed the possibility of cutbacks where suitable but the general consensus was to determine what the citizenry wants and find ways to fund such projects…which may mean omitting or delaying other projects.

The general direction was to prioritize, and check costs before committing to projects. Make the numbers simple or brief so that the public can understand, find their desires, and act accordingly.

There was some talk of alternate budget approaches, including a zero-based budget, or brief “save 2% or 5% or 10%” alternate budget presentations along with the regular budget.

It was noted that this would require more staff time and delay but that it could be done. The question was posed, ”what does the council want”? Several of the new council members need some time to learn and accept before they can make proper decisions herein.

Will the current model of doing things “piecemeal” continue or should the new Work Plan approach be adopted?

Should the present Council Meeting Process continue or should steps be taken to shorten meeting times?

Other topics

  • The Boys and Girls Club is putting a new model together, similar to the prior model that will include revival of the Teen Center. Will announce details when closer to opening (mid-year earliest).
  • Facebook (social media) is not enough to expect input from our citizens. Council members must “get out and do it” to find out whatever they are concerned about. Council members are there to represent the people. They need to get citizen inputs and concerns, personally, so as to properly work for them. Council members are “cheerleaders” for the people and need to know what to cheer for. Staff feel they are “facilitators” for all they interface with. The council is involved in “public service” and their rewards come from jobs well done for the citizens.
  • Council meetings are running too long. Perhaps cut Public Comment “dialog”? Ask those that agree with a previous input to limit input to “I agree with….” On council votes, insist on no “personal tales” from council members and get right to the vote. Some discussion as to having two Study Sessions and two Council Meetings each month but spread out so as to give staff plenty of time to assemble asked for data.

Reporting by Harry Shedd. Edited and addition language by Scott Hamilton.

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