At its regularly scheduled July 20 meeting, the Woodinville City Council directed city staff to prepare a possible property tax increase ballot measure that would allow citizens to vote with their own pocket books on whether or not to keep recreation programs alive at the Carol Edward Center.
Previously, the council majority had voted to close the doors to the recreation center on December 31 of this year, citing a drain of $1.6 million in annual losses.
At its August 3 meeting, Woodinville City Manager Richard Leahy returned with some concrete numbers: It would cost the city somewhere between $19,500 and $25,000 just to get the measure on the ballot. At the July 20 meeting, when asked, Leahy estimated that cost would be between $5,000 and $10,000.
Leahy also prepared a selection of options related to the amount of the levy, the term of the levy and restrictions that might be placed on where the funding could be applied.
He expressed reservations on the success of the levy’s passage in this economic climate, citing that current city property tax for a typical family with a $500,000-assessed- value home is already $553 annually. The five additional tax options the city manager presented ranged from a hike of $87 on the low end to $300 on the high end.
Earlier during public comment, Woodinville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Witt informed council that the chamber was interested in renting space in the Carol Edwards Center for its operation and suggested some type of public and private partnership might allow the CEC’s doors to remain open.
Councilmember Scott Hageman, who opposed the closure from the start, asked Leahy to elaborate on the $200,000 he previously suggested could be saved with cost-cutting measures. "We could probably increase our rental rates and program rates by 30 to 35 percent," he said. "We probably lose 10 to 15 percent of our business because there are alternatives out there. There also might be some reduction in expenditures — in terms of personnel — that don’t affect the product."
Councilmember Liz Aspen, clearly dissatisfied with the response, then got a little testy and the exchange heated up: "We directed you to come back with cost-saving numbers and all we’re given is ‘Maybe $200,000?’ Why don’t we have specifics on that?"
Leahy: "The reality is that was scheduled for next week.
Aspen: "Why next week when we’re talking about it tonight?"
Leahy: "We didn’t have time, and I think the real big issue is whether or not you put the resolution on the ballot. The task council gave us was to prepare a resolution for the November 2 election and we have done that."
Then Aspen shifted gears: "Has your recreation staff presented you with any alternative budget numbers?" she asked.
Leahy: "Yes, ma’am. But I’m not prepared to share those with you because I don’t believe they’re realistic."
Aspen: "So you’re saying your staff is not giving you correct numbers?"
Leahy: "I think I said what I just said — they have prepared some information which I don’t think is realistic or achievable given the current conditions ... If you believe that we have somehow misinterpreted the numbers I’ll be glad to sit down and go over them."
An exasperated Aspen said she would not support the levy. "We haven’t explored all options and we don’t have good information from staff.
I’m very concerned about the numbers we’re getting and not getting and I think (the council is) trying to manipulate the public to ensure failure."
She added: "I would rather spend the $25,000 to conduct a survey to find out what our citizens really want."
Councilmember Paulette Bauman then reminded the council and gallery that before staff produced a "Parks and Recreation Revenue and Cost Allocation Study" in April of this year, complete calculations of the department’s budget were unavailable.
"We had some good people on the parks and rec commission — some visionary people — but those numbers simply did not exist," she said. "It has nothing to do with private development."
Bauman changed her vote from two weeks prior. "I originally supported the motion because I felt that citizens had the right to put their money where their mouth is — and I don’t mean that disrespectfully ... But if you want to save your Carol Edwards Center, then pay for it."
Shortly thereafter Deputy Mayor Bernie Talmas made a motion to take no action on the property tax levy, which faced an August 10 submission deadline. The motion passed, 6-1, with Susan Boundy-Sanders opposed.