Aerial view of the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Aerial view of the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Projects stall in Edmonds as a budget do-over drags on

The city’s spending has been scrutinized down to carpet cleaning and day-to-day maintenance costs.

EDMONDS — Weeks of discussion about dozens of proposed cuts to Edmonds’ adopted 2022 budget have disrupted business as usual in the city.

After about five hours of deliberation across three meetings this week, City Council members failed to wrap up their budget amendment process. They have approved three out of over 30 proposed amendments that were introduced in January. Only amendments receiving a supermajority — or five votes — will be added to an ordinance that will come back to the council for final approval.

Amendments that have received a supermajority include ditching plans to hire a permanent full-time Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) program manager, instead contracting the manager for three years.

The council also voted in favor of moving $200,000 from the Human Services division’s budget to the Homeless Fund, and removing $400,000 for a proposed “green streets” and rain gardens project.

“This is February 17,” Councilmember Laura Johnson said before the vote to adjourn Thursday’s meeting. “It would be nice to have this done and in place so that our city knows what they’re working with.”

Last week, staff members described a city in a state of disarray.

Projects and purchases outlined in the city budget — adopted in November — have been mostly on hold. And Edmonds spokesperson Kelsey Foster’s job was put on the chopping block, as council members debated cutting the full-time position. In the end, she kept her job. The council also voted down a proposal to cut funding from stormwater treatment at the Edmonds Marsh.

“Some of our City Council members want to cut critical city services taking Edmonds backwards 30 years,” Mayor Mike Nelson said in a statement.

Edmonds Councilmember Neil Tibbott previously served on the council and lost his bid for mayor to Nelson. Tibbott and Councilmember Will Chen were elected in November, joining a new ideological majority that favors a trimmer budget.

“Budgeting ain’t for sissies,” Tibbott wrote in a political email before Tuesday’s meeting.

He said his goals in amending the budget were removing items “that seem excessive or unnecessary,” exerting “discipline in budget areas that are approved, but need oversight,” and requiring “more explanation” for planned infrastructure projects.

‘I do not know who all they came from’

The budget has since been scrutinized all the way down to money for carpet cleaning and day-to-day maintenance.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she didn’t know who exactly proposed each amendment.

“I do not know who all they came from, because I did not talk to them, but they are from four council members,” Buckshnis said.

In a letter to the editor published in the Edmonds Beacon, she said the ongoing budget talks are just “good governance.”

On Tuesday and Thursday night, department directors for the city reappeared before the council to justify their needs.

Councilmember Laura Johnson said some of the directors’ statements, like the reasons for hiring a new capital projects manager in the Parks department, were shared in the original budget process. And after listening to city leaders, council members who may have been in favor of cuts seemed to have a change of heart.

“One thing that I have appreciated about this budget amendment process is the chance to hear details,” Tibbott said.

Council members unanimously voted down many of the proposed amendments, like removing $270,180 to purchase a police perimeter fence.

Police Chief Michelle Bennett told council members it’s a safety concern.

“There’s a sally port that’s for prisoners who come in and out and property, and other types of evidence that I won’t get into, that comes in and out, and that’s not a secure area whatsoever,” she said. “So we could be bringing someone in as a prisoner, or some type of gun or evidence, and there’s no protection or perimeter to protect the officers coming in or out.”

They also unanimously voted down a pitch to eliminate $440,000 to begin work to fix the Yost and Seaview reservoirs, built in 1973 and 1976, respectively.

Acting Public Works Director Rob English said it’s a time-sensitive issue, especially the Yost reservoir, where there are structural issues that “present a potential hazard in a seismic event.”

Looming threats of cuts stalled city projects budgeted for this year, Nelson said in a statement. Thursday’s council meeting marked 48 days since 2022 began.

A birdwatcher uses their binoculars at a viewpoint along the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A birdwatcher uses their binoculars at a viewpoint along the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Quite personal’

Public Works Director Phil Williams served the city of Edmonds for over 11 years. He left in November.

For the entirety of his tenure, he worked on proposals to rehabilitate the Edmonds Marsh.

When sharing his vision for projects in the Edmonds Marsh before the council, he said he felt his department had good ideas — many prepared by “competent consultants” like fish-and-wildlife experts.

“Some council members thought very differently,” he said. “And occasionally, they made that quite personal, and that was unfair.”

Little progress has been made on marsh restoration, he said.

Again, in this round of budget amendments, council members considered cutting $190,000 for a project in the marsh, but the vote fell short, 2-5. That money is expected to be used to treat Highway 104 stormwater before it rolls into the marsh, English said.

A Northern Pintail feeds in the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A Northern Pintail feeds in the Edmonds Marsh on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

According to the city, the pre-design phase is complete and “next steps include securing additional funding for design and obtaining property owner permission for portions which are not on city-owned property.”

The site lists Zack Richardson, stormwater engineer, as the point person on the project. He has since left to work at the city of Shoreline.

It’s not unusual for cities to revisit and revise budget plans, though Edmonds never really wrapped up its process in the first place.

Some cities in Snohomish County, like Arlington and Lynnwood, are on a biennial budget schedule.

“A biennial budget process allows the city to better engage in long-term and strategic planning,” the city of Arlington’s website states.

Lake Stevens, Mukilteo and Everett also use an annual budget schedule. Everett carves out time to revise the original budget in late February or early March.

Williams said he didn’t leave Edmonds because of the politics that played out on a public stage “with cameras,” but it didn’t make his job any more fun.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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