Streetcommittee advises ‘sweeping’ changes

Published on Thu, May 25, 2006 by eg Olson

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Street committee advises ‘sweeping’ changes

By Meg Olson

Blaine City Council has approved sweeping changes to what the city charges for services, but citizens from Blaine’s street advisory committee have finished their analysis of local roads and are recommending continuing to collect the additional tax dollars approved in 1996 for another 10 years to fund another round of upgrades.

“Our perception is that this is a bearable level for taxpayers and one that offers significant benefits,” said committee member John Bennitt at the May 22 Blaine city council meeting.

The group is proposing to continue collecting $1.40 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation approved by voters in 1996 to rebuild residential streets. With the $5.4 million estimated revenue over 10 years the city could rebuild 36 blocks in Blaine.

The committee is also proposing the city continue to collect the 50 cents per thousand dollars voter-approved 2002 street maintenance levy, collecting an additional $3 million over 10 years to maintain existing streets and provide matching funds for grants.

“The dollars spent on roads will build community pride and will increase property values,” Bennitt said. “It is an investment in the health and safety of our city.”

Committee members explained the process of selecting which streets to put on the list for the 10-year residential street improvement plan, starting with extensive tours of Blaine streets and moving on to develop criteria and rank streets according to how they scored. Criteria included safety and lighting, overall condition, drainage, traffic volume, pedestrian and bike facilities, and appearance, and streets earned points based on how they scored in the need for improvement in those categories.

Streets also earned points if they were on the list of streets to improve under the 1996 plan, but never got done.
Committee member KathleenCapson said it would cost $18 million to upgrade every block that the committee felt needed it, so they cut their list to fit a $6 million dollar budget more compatible with the revenue anticipated.

At the top of their list was Boblett Street from Peace Portal Drive to Mitchell Avenue. “This is the oldest street in Blaine,” Capson said. “It’s Portland cement and it’s starting to come up.”
In the northwest corner of the lettered streets B Street and the blocks of 4th Street north of D Street are on the list. “We will hopefully be able to add some stability to this neighborhood,” said Capson, which is already bracing for the impact of the expansion of the Peace Arch port of entry.

Six blocks of E Street, from 6th Street to 12th Street, and the block of 9th Street just north of H Street are also proposed for reconstruction. In the Salishan area in addition to Boblett, all but the most easterly block of Cedar Street will be rebuilt, and Capson hopes funds will remain to upgrade the block of Clark Street east of Peace Portal Drive and all of 11th Street.

Most of the streets identified would need to be paid for solely from the levy revenue, but the committee has identified two projects that could benefit from government and developer partnerships: Bayview Avenue south of Clyde Street and H Street from Odell Road to Vista Terrace.

Committee members said they wanted to launch an extensive public participation process including local meetings, mailings and other outreach efforts, to get the community on board. However, they won’t be taking the matter to the public for a vote, since that is not legally required. “A vote isn’t required and that took us all by surprise,” said public works director Steve Banham, adding they had consulted the county assessor’s office and discovered the city retained the taxing ability of the earlier levy lifts because of a confluence of circumstances including the annexation by fire district 13 and the subsequent decrease in the city’s levying ability.

County assessor Keith Willnauer said his office had made an initial determination that, in terms of the tax dollars the city could collect, the highest lawful limit was the same as if the temporary levy lifts approved by the voters for roads were permanent.

“Because it is a very obtuse interpretation, kind of a technical loophole, we’ll get a more formal determination from the department of revenue,” he said

Banham said committee members had discussed whether they should just go to the voters again to get another temporary lid-lift on the levy but had opted against it. “There’s some risk,” he said.
“We really believe we represent the city,” said committee member Sue Steelquist. “We obviously want to get input but a vote is not in our best interest.”

The residential streets proposed for reconstruction will be added to the city’s six-year-transportation plan, to be presented during a public hearing on June 12. The committee will continue to meet to plan for funding and revise the list if necessary.

They will also schedule public meetings on the road improvements, perhaps adding them to the annual neighborhood meetings this summer.

City reviews fees

In a work session prior to their May 22 meeting, council members picked through changes included in a completed unified fee schedule and while some thought a handful of fees should be reduced or have their application limited, others wanted to see selected fees increased.
Out of 76 proposed changes, from a modest rise in water connection fees to new fees for additional technical review of projects, council picked out six to study further.
Jason Overstreet did not think it was fair to charge a $50 fee if the city building official needed to re-inspect a project, adding that if he had needed to pay the fee his home would have cost him $300 more to build.

“There are a lot of things that simply get missed, the codes are so thick,” Overstreet said. “The purpose of an inspection is to check your work and show you what you missed.” John Liebert agreed, saying the individual homeowner was likely to need more help from the inspector and it shouldn’t be a problem with “professionals.”
“It isn’t the homeowner, it is people who should know better,” said city finance director Meredith Riley. She added the city’s building inspector was spending an increasing amount of time doing repeat inspections on certain projects.

“Why should we pay for this when it’s the responsibility of the person doing the project?” asked council member Charlie Hawkins. “When you call for a building inspection you’re saying you have it done right.”

Public works director Steve Banham said they could look at a fee that increases as more re-inspections were needed. The cost a project review for conformity with the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) is proposed to increase from $125 to $175, but council member Bonnie Onyon said she thought it should go higher.
“It’s a complicated process,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to be enough.”

Ken Ely said in comparison with Ferndale’s fee of $450, Whatcom County’s fee from $270 to $440 and Bellingham at $250, Blaine’s fee was low. “I want to know if that’s enough money since everywhere else is so high,” he said

Council members also asked for more information on design review costs, which are lower in Blaine than in the county and other cities. Currently, the city doesn’t charge for design review, and is proposing a $200 fee, plus an hourly charge for outside review if needed for a commercial project, with a lower cost for residential and redesign reviews.

“We have all these zeros going to big numbers. Are we just entering the big time?” asked Bruce Wolf. “Ferndale’s been charging these fees for years, as have Bellingham and Whatcom County,”

Riley answered. “Our departments are getting so impacted we have to start charging.” Onyon observed the city’s proposed new fees were level with other county governments, or in many cases lower.

The city’s parks impact fee is proposed to jump from $300 to $750 and Wolf asked why staff were not proposing the $1,000 fee recommended by the parks board. “That is even on the low side in Whatcom County,” he said. “We need money for our parks.” Onyon agreed the parks impact fee should be increased.

After clarification that the fee was charged per residential unit, Wolf did an about-face. “That is quite high,” he said, especially for larger developments like those proposed for east Blaine. “They’re putting in a lot of homes and they’re adding a park,” said council member John Liebert, who thought more than doubling the park impact fee was high enough.” Wolf said he would like feedback from developers about the fee before changing it.

The highest park impact fee for a single family unit is in Bellingham at $3,891. Lynden is next at $939 followed by Ferndale at $664. Outside the county, Riley presented from across the state that ranged from $250 in Zillah to $2,290 in Camas.