Northwest NEWS

November 11, 2002

Local News

Making the dream a reality - Funding and implementing Woodinville's 20-year vision

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Once complete, the City of Woodinville's Downtown-Little Bear Creek Master Plan will provide a 20-year vision for the city.
   Components of the plan - be they roads, parks, trails or a train station - will be built over time. Not overnight. Not all at once.
   Of course, the hope is that smart public improvements will trigger private development. That way the master plan will unfold, propelled by a combination of public and private investment.
   But from where will the money come to pay for these public improvements meant to entice developers? From property taxes, perhaps?
   In a word, no.
   The money guy over at City Hall, Jim Katica, finance director, said it is highly unlikely property taxes will be used to pay for capital improvement projects here in Woodinville.
   Eyman-Initiative 747, Katica explained, put a lid on how much a city can raise property taxes. As it is, he said, property taxes just cover city expenses.
   "The city has two kinds of costs," said Katica, "operating costs and big capital project costs. The operating costs are for items such as salaries, maintenance, police protection, planning, administration, park upkeep, for example. The capital project costs are for items such as land purchases, new roads, bridges, a civic center, new parks, etc.
   "The city has a set of revenues for operating expenses and another (separate set) for capital improvement projects," said Katica. "The ones for capital projects can only be used for capital projects."
   So the city has a revenue stream to be used exclusively for big capital projects. The money comes from Real Estate Excise Taxes, a Capital Street Reserve Fund, a Surface Water Capital Reserve Fund, a General Fund surplus, a Mitigation Fund (transportation mitigation paid by developers), utility taxes, admission taxes, gas taxes, park impact fees, and grants.
   This revenue stream yields a finite amount of money each year.
   Of course, there is another way to get additional funds for capital projects. That is to go to the people in a referendum.
   "Going to the voters is something the city does rarely and reluctantly," said Katica, "but it is an option. Then again, we need a 60 percent approval for the referendum to pass. This is how the City of Bothell got funding for its police station and how it tried to get funding for its City Hall."
   The City of Woodinville has also gone to voters for capital improvement funds, twice. Both times were unsuccessful.
   So with limited moneys available for capital needs, the city is forced to make choices as to which projects to push forward.
   To illustrate this, the city's 2003-2008 Capital Improvement Plan identifies 62 desired projects.
   "These are projects that the city recommended to be financed," said Katica. "Of course, the Council can tweak the list, re-assigning a higher priority to any project."
   The estimated cost to complete all 62 projects is $148 million. Since city officials estimate only $14 million in capital-projects revenue between 2003 and 2008, they must vet the projects, moving forward only the most needed, most desired projects.
   "No project is begun until it is weighted against existing projects and until there is adequate financing available," he said.
   When asked why each project delineated in the draft Downtown-Little Bear Creek Master Plan did not have a projected cost assigned to it, Katica said, "At this point, the plan is a vision. We're not even at the blueprint stage. We are trying to put down ideas, set a course of action. The cost end will become more refined as the plan becomes more solidified."
   City Planner Carl Smith concurred.
   Some of the projects are only conceptual, said Smith.
   "The cost of the pedestrian / bicycle bridge," said Smith, "depends upon where and what kind of overpass we build. As for the train station, there is really no one here at City Hall who has experience estimating building costs for a train station.
   "The trail under 131st is too vague in its configuration at this point. And the off-street pedestrian / bike loop depends on whether the city has right-of-way (through areas the trail will pass)."
   Smith said for projects such as these, it would be premature to go through the costing process.
   "These projects represent ideas that are out there," he said. "There are so many variables involved that we didn't want to put out any misleading (financial) information."
   The bottom line, said Katica, is that the city's finance department, its planners, its engineers and its Council may think differently; but they all have the same goal in mind: what is best for the citizens, what is best for the city.
   "A city planner may think a grid road is necessary," said Katica. "An engineer may think traffic flow is more important. The City Council may have yet another idea. Everyone looks at things a little differently, but we all have the same goal: to make Woodinville a better place to live and work."