Everett mayor to voters: ‘There isn’t anything left to cut’

Cassie Franklin thinks it’s time for voters to consider a ballot measure to lift the tax levy lid.

EVERETT — After years of employment cuts, reorganization and seeking other ways to reduce expenses, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin is hopeful the City Council will ask voters for a levy lid increase next year.

During the mayor’s budget address on Wednesday, Franklin implied that she plans to ask the council to put such a request on the ballot. It would be the first time in 20 years the city asked voters for a higher property tax levy.

Over those years, property taxes have grown annually by 1%, the maximum increase allowed for governments without a public vote. But that hasn’t kept pace with inflation, and a cauldron of rising costs for materials and labor, city leaders say.

“There isn’t anything left to cut or defer without negatively impacting our quality of life and our economic recovery,” Franklin said. “Everett residents should have a direct voice in these decisions.”

Meanwhile, the mayor outlined her plan for spending $155.3 million for general government operations in 2022.

The city expects to bolster several programs and services as part of a 12.7% spending increase from last year, following years of cuts. About 70% of the increase is due to the restoration of contributions to the law enforcement pension fund, which were suspended last year to balance the budget, and because the city is tackling deferred maintenance of city facilities.

The mayor’s spending plan did not include American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which she said would be brought to the City Council soon.

Franklin’s budget adds a homelessness response coordinator to the Community Development team. The coordinator would help develop and implement strategies in response to homelessness, city spokesperson Kimberley Cline said.

More staff would be hired to “respond to and address” encampments where some people experiencing homelessness live, Franklin said.

Her proposed budget also includes a fundraiser position for the Everett Public Library, a social worker intern, more animal shelter staff and 10 bus drivers.

Last year, during the state’s stay-home orders through the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 library employees were laid off and the 2021 budget was reduced. Success with a fundraiser for the Everett Animal Shelter encouraged the mayor to add one for the library, where staff expect the position to “more than pay for itself,” Franklin said.

The library also would be a primary location for the social worker intern.

Everett Animal Shelter plans to offer reduced-cost services for income-qualifying residents. To do so, more staff would be hired, but details of those positions or the program were not immediately available. The goal is to keep pets with their owners and out of the shelter.

“Sadly, some people may have few options but to surrender a beloved pet when they are faced with unanticipated costs in veterinary care,” Franklin said.

Additional bus drivers are needed for Franklin’s vision to restore Everett Transit service that was cut last year. One link that could return is to the Riverside Business Park in the northeast part of town and along the waterfront. Improved service on Evergreen Way, east of Broadway and to link up with Community Transit and future light rail stations also are planned.

She proposed keeping public safety staffing at current levels, with a goal of filling about 17 vacancies in the Everett Police Department. Franklin last proposed adding police officers in 2020, when the target was to add 24 to the existing contingent of 200. More funding is slated for the Community Outreach and Enforcement Team, a program which pairs a police officer with a social worker to contact people living on the streets.

“My budget for police supports training, community policing programs, and the completion of our council-requested police department assessment,” she said.

From another department, an existing full-time employee’s duties will be redirected to lead climate and sustainability efforts for the city.

That work is part of a broader ambition Franklin has to make Everett a “green economy” hub. She said the city is already on that path, listing companies here that work in “clean” or renewable energy, such as Helion Energy, InFarm, MagniX, TerraPower and Zap Energy.

Everett plans to develop about 100 acres, much of which is city-owned, northeast of the I-5 and U.S. 2 interchange, into the Everett Point Industrial Center (EPIC) Green.

“With patience and focus, EPIC Green will be the green hub of the Northwest and we’re committed to attracting green businesses to this site, specifically those working to lower the world’s carbon footprint,” Franklin said.

Everett Transit has heavily invested in battery-electric buses and infrastructure and expects half of the fleet to be electric next year. An analysis of a merger with Community Transit is ongoing, Franklin said.

Franklin also touted the success of private-public partnerships for some services, such as having the Volunteers of American operate the Carl Gipson Senior Center; the YMCA running programs at Camp Patterson in Thornton A. Sullivan Park near Silver Lake; and T&L Nursery leasing the city’s greenhouses at Legion Memorial Park.

With or without some major departments and expenses on the city’s books, Everett could ask voters for a property tax bump.

“At some point in time, we as citizens have to step up to the ballot box and write a check,” Councilmember Jeff Moore said.

Budget discussions will happen over coming months, with the council possibly adopting a ballot measure before the end of the year.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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