EVERETT — It was a bad year with brilliant moments for the city, but better days are ahead, Mayor Cassie Franklin said in the annual State of Everett speech Thursday morning.
During a virtual meeting hosted by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Franklin reflected on the past year’s losses and triumphs and stated her priorities for 2021. They are economic and health recovery, good governance, housing, and equity and inclusion.
The nation’s first known COVID-19 patient was identified and treated at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett just over a year ago. Since then, 472 people in Snohomish County have died from the virus or complications caused by it, out of more than 26,600 positive cases.
“Those early days were scary,” Franklin said.” I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge what a hellish year it’s been.”
The disease halted city plans for a trail around Silver Lake as well as housing and zoning discussions. But both are in progress now. As people stayed home or avoided crowds and the risk of infection, businesses reliant on face-to-face commerce struggled or closed.
“Each of those businesses is a tax base for the city,” Franklin said. “So each of those businesses closing is lost revenue.”
After the one infection became a pandemic in early spring, Franklin and the Everett City Council cut city expenses, froze non-essential hiring and travel, laid off 81 employees and paid voluntary separation agreements to another 56. Some laid-off employees had positions that weren’t considered essential or were in programs that were disallowed during the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” regulations last year.
The $650 million budget for this year maintained most of those cuts. The union that represents about 350 city employees, the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, has criticized the cuts and the process that led to them.
In her speech, Franklin touted plans to hire two social workers to be embedded with police officers as an example of expanding needed services when city leaders are able.
The city’s structural deficit will continue to be a challenge. Costs, largely for labor, are outpacing tax revenue growth. Ideas for possible partial remedies have included seeking voter approval for mergers of the city’s emergency medical, fire and transit services with neighboring agencies or municipalities.
“This year is the time to take a hard look at the options before us,” Franklin said.
Everett City Council members have cautioned that mergers could cost Everett taxpayers more than keeping the services in the city and funding them better with a voter-approved tax increase, but official cost estimates have not been published yet.
Homelessness and housing remain a focus for the mayor, who spent years leading Cocoon House, a youth-housing nonprofit based in Everett. She cited the formation of the Student Homelessness Task Force and her own “Housing for All” directive as steps toward encouraging development and discovering housing needs.
One part of that is the city’s outreach and education effort, called ReThink Housing, which is soliciting input on the kinds of housing people want to see in their neighborhoods. Franklin acknowledged that it could be a challenge after residents in the Port Gardner neighborhood rallied to fight a multifamily development for unsheltered students and their families on a vacant field owned by the Everett School District.
It’s a kind of chicken-and-egg quandary, Franklin said. Anti-development sentiment coincides with concerns about people without stable shelter, the growing population, and traffic and affordability.
“One of the narratives that I try to combat here is that, ‘If you build it they will come, so let’s not build it and they won’t come,’” she said. “They’re already here, and they’re coming. … We can’t stop that growth. We have to provide housing.”
In the wake of nationwide protests against police killings, and calls to “defund the police” and invest in social programs that help marginalized communities, Franklin created a position to oversee the city’s diversity and equity policies and reforms. She hired Kay Barnes, a Black Navy veteran who already worked in the city’s human resources department, to oversee it.
“Reversing decades of institutional racism in government is an impossible task, but we’ll do what we can,” Franklin said.
She has remained steadfast that many of the changes sought by calls to “defund the police” are already underway in Everett. The police department is to launch a widespread body-camera program for officers in uniform and will begin training officers to prevent misconduct by peers, which is already a policy. The aim is to create a “culture of intervention,” Franklin said.
“We’re kind of on the cutting edge of these police reforms and we want to stay there,” she said.