Letter | Critique of the Council Retreat

By Robert Style

Why did the Council spend $30,000 for something they already knew?  Each community survey for the past 20 years has produced the same results which they use to toot their own horn.  But the blast turns to blasphemy when the Council ignores what needs to be done to improve Kirkland; that being traffic and growth.  Maybe the survey was good because it documents the council’s failure to solve the same problem year after year.

The community survey is about who controls the information and how it’s subsequently used.  The Council has taken many liberties when selecting which questions are asked and how they are phrased.  Consultants always produce what the Council wants.  Their future business depends on it.

Asking if the citizens would be willing to pay additional taxes for maintenance or existing parks and more sidewalks to address pedestrian safety ignores the fact that city had the money but decided to spend it on annexation.  Why wasn’t the stem of the question worded to inform the public of why the need for more taxes may be necessary?

The Council purposely creates shortfalls in selected funds in order to increase the possibility of voter approval if it were on the ballot.  Would the citizens have voted for higher taxes if they had known the money would be spent on annexation?  I don’t think so.  There was no mention of how the city managed or mismanaged the annexation issue in the survey.

The timing of the survey was important.  Had the survey been conducted after the parks were closed and the garbage not picked up, I believe the results would have been different.

The Council is also happy with how the information is disseminated by the city: and why not?  The survey was favorable.  If the question regarding how well the city keeps the citizens informed were worded to reflect the contents of what the city said, the results would be surprising.

Using taxpayer resources to fund The City Update, Currently Kirkland, Community Meetings, Business Community Meetings, and controlled Community Surveys, the city manages how much information goes out and what is said.

The Council leaves out those items that might undercut their interest.  We didn’t hear about what when on when several Councilmembers met with the County regarding annexation.  So much for transparency.  The PAA was not told about how the city planned to divide up their neighborhood boundaries.  It may have affected the vote.  The citizens of Kirkland were denied the opportunity to voice their concerns about having to pay more for less if the annexation was approved.  NO, it’s not about how much information the Council puts out, it’s about how it’s used and what they say.  Questions like that were not on the survey.

The justification for the Council’s goals on Diverse Housing is flawed if the citizens want to protect the ambiance of what we have now and hope to have in the future.  As of now, about 25% of housing units are subsidized and considered affordable to those earning 80% of the County’s median income.  Notice, it’s based on County figures, not Kirkland figures.  Over time,Kirkland’s median income should increase, not decrease.

If subsidize housing is to survive, they should be basic units in an affordable area of the County.  That’s why we also subsidized mass transit so people in the county can afford to get to work.

Affordable housing does not belong in Hunts Point, Medina, or Beaux Arts.  The Growth Management Act doesn’t require it for cities.  It does for the county. Cities are working with counties to help with finding affordable housing.  I contend that 25% is more than enough for Kirkland, not the goal of 41%.   We don’t want to become another Seattle or worse yet another Miami/Dade county that almost declared bankruptcy because of too much affordable housing.  Do we want to protect what we have? The question was not in the survey.

The Cost of Service per Resident was a chart showing the cost to be $1,026.74.  Too bad the chart didn’t break down who is paying that cost.  Affordable housing is not.

Perhaps the most serious flaw that came out of the staff report on financing was the 2011-2016 GENERAL FUND FORECAST.  The Council still has not learned its lesson.  The Council has never in the past 23 years forecasted a balance budget. There’s a $5.6 million deficit and that doesn’t include the $70 million more to pay for annexation. What does the survey say about balancing the budget?

The Financial Budget Policy once again falsely identified the reason for the budget reductions as being the failure of the voted increase in the private utility tax.  The reason for the reduction was because the Council had the money but decided to spend it on annexation.   It’s interesting that utility taxes increased 16.5 percent even without a vote.  Utility taxes are already too high.

The Financial Management Report showed the general fund was 4.1 percent higher than last year.  The Water/Sewer Operating Fund was 7 percent higher.  The Surface Water Management Fund went up 19.9 percent higher and yet we a budget shortfall.  It is clear to me that we’re paying more for less and yet we have a council that refuses to reduce its operating budget in places that do not reduce basic services to citizens.  Better management and meaningful internal reductions are necessary.

I would like to see the Council submit a budget forecast that is balanced.  Before anything else, the new Council should complete a service matrix that will solve the problem, that of a sustainable budget with core services being paid for using what resources are available without raising fees and taxes.  We have to live within our means, why not the Council?

Robert L. Style