After a bizarre and extraordinary year, city leaders say Woodinville continues into 2021 with priorities aligned toward improving economic development, transportation and affordable housing options, emergency planning and surface water management.
City Manager Brandon Buchanan recounted several achievements and pitfalls at the annual State of the City, hosted virtually by the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, on Feb. 18.
“We’ve done a lot of good in a very short amount of time,” Buchanan said during the meeting.
He said the city handed out almost $600,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to residents, businesses and nonprofits in the area. Most of the funding helped with food security, rent assistance, and protective personal equipment (PPE), he added.
Through a free PPE program, the city distributed over 5,250 pieces of health and safety equipment to 150 businesses, including boxes of masks, gloves, plexiglass shields, thermometers and more. Buchanan said the city also gave away nearly 17,000 face masks at 10 free distribution events throughout the year.
City Hall and various other facilities closed to the public quickly after the pandemic began, however, the city was able to continue with about 95% of normal business. Passport processing and fingerprinting at the police department are some of the only in-person services paused for the time being, Buchanan said. All other lines of business, from permitting to public works projects, have continued robustly even with staff working mostly from home, he added.
As part of the permanent permit fee reduction program, the city assisted nearly 200 applicants with lowered building costs. Additionally, Buchanan noted, the pandemic caused all-around decreases in permitting activity, especially relating to land use permits, construction permits and building permit valuations.
Data from Buchanan’s presentation also indicated a sharp decline in permits for multi-family units, from 559 permits in 2019 to zero permits in 2020. Single-family unit permitting also decreased from 10 in 2019 to two in 2020, a consistent drop compared to previous years.
Seeing as most businesses were impacted by shutdowns and lockdowns, construction and sales tax revenue lessened by roughly half a million dollars. Accommodations and food services also showed a steep decline in revenue. Retail trade, which is consistently the highest revenue source, only presented a slight decrease in 2020 revenue.
“As COVID continues to mitigate, we expect to see some rebounds in these numbers into 2021,” Buchanan said.
In terms of public safety, commercial robberies at businesses seem to be targeted more often. Buchanan said he is always surprised by how many of the commercial burglaries are related to unlocked doors — a simple fix.
He said catalytic converter thefts and car prowling are also major crimes of opportunity in the area. If possible, make sure all cars and business vehicles are parked in well-lit areas behind fencing and security cameras, he added. On a more positive note, Woodinville continues to have a low level of violent crime in the community.
In the summer, after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, Woodinville Police Department joined the conversation on police brutality and accountability. Buchanan said the department immediately took part in the #8CANTWAIT campaign, an initiative with eight policies proven to curtail police violence.
“We were able to meet all eight of those priorities almost immediately, which is the first in the Puget Sound,” he said. “I think this really speaks to the progressive nature of policing in our community. So, we were proud of that.”
Unfortunately, the police department also faced some challenges in 2020. Buchanan said two officers were injured in the line of duty last November during a shootout. The suspect was shot and killed during the incident. One officer has already returned back to work and the other is still out for personal issues, he noted.
Looking ahead to 2021, the two-year budget of 2021-2022 includes about $33 million in operating expenditures and $31 million in capital expenditures. Buchanan said a majority of the capital costs are going toward street, facility and park projects.
Construction on the 145th Street Pedestrian Project aims to begin mid-summer, he said. The crossing area will replace the railroad tracks in front of Chateau Ste. Michelle to help improve pedestrian safety on the busy roadway. The project also includes sidewalks along the front of the Chateau and better visibility for all.
Above all, the year 2020 revealed the importance of strong emergency management plans for disasters of nature and health. As Woodinville continues to grow, Buchanan said, it’s important to be prepared for what is to happen next.