July 2, 2019 | Budget Strategies, Transportation Projects and More
Posted on 07/09/2019

The Newcastle City Council roundups offer a digest of notable items for those who can't make it to the regular meetings. Listen to the audio from the July 2 2019, meeting here and view the meeting agenda packet here. View past City Council roundups at newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps.

COUNCIL CONSIDERS BUDGET STRATEGIES

In a study session prior to the regular meeting, the Newcastle City Council reviewed strategies to address the budget’s fiscal gap. Earlier this year, the City contracted with the firm Management Partners to develop a Fiscal Sustainability Plan addressing Newcastle’s forecasted financial challenges.

As part of the plan, the firm prepared three budget strategy scenarios that could fix the structural deficit. The Council reviewed those, and a scenario prepared by the Finance Committee, during the study session.

Management Partners’ three scenarios propose a variety of approaches ranging from revenue enhancements to service level reductions. One scenario focuses on adding new revenue through the implementation of utility and admissions taxes and the establishment of a transportation benefit district. Another scenario emphasizes service and staff cuts, discontinuing Newcastle’s community events and eliminating a police officer and other staff positions.

The third scenario offers a blend of the two strategies. This option suggests implementation of a utility tax by 2021, the addition of an admissions tax, a freeze on a vacant accountant position and combining the duties of two staff members into one position. All of the scenarios propose implementing measures to improve sales tax collection and enforcement. You can learn more about each scenario and get additional information here.

The City Council’s three-member Finance Committee came up with a fourth scenario that follows the blended concept. It proposes a phased-in approach to the implementation of a utility tax, gradually increasing rates over a five-year period. This plan also suggests freezing the vacant accountant position for the remainder of 2019 and combining the roles of the communications and activities coordinators. You can learn more about this scenario here.

The City Council also had the chance to use a tool that allowed them to see in real time the financial impacts of their decisions. The Council did not take any action, but they’ll continue the discussion during their Aug. 15 budget retreat.

COUNCIL PREVIEWS TRANSPORTATION IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

Public Works Director Jeff Brauns presented the first draft of the 2020-2025 Transportation Improvement Program, a six-year planning document that outlines the City’s future transportation projects. The TIP is a state-mandated guide that ensures municipalities plan ahead to carry out and coordinate transportation projects that benefit their communities.

This draft of the TIP includes two project additions. The first one would bring non-motorized improvements to Southeast May Creek Park Drive from 117th Avenue Southeast to 121st Avenue Southeast. The second one is a 136th Avenue Southeast widening project that would address traffic concerns at Newcastle Elementary School. Staff implemented interim striping improvements at the site earlier this year and they will continue to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the new lane configuration when classes resume in the fall.

As a planning document, the TIP doesn’t commit the City to fund any particular project. Projects must be authorized through the City’s normal budget adoption process. State law requires communities to annually update their TIPs. View the full draft TIP here  and learn more about the changes and additions on the plan here.

You’re invited to share your thoughts on the proposed TIP at a public hearing during the City Council’s July 16 meeting. The City Council will consider approving a resolution adopting the document at that time.

COUNCIL APPROVES ORDINANCE EXPANDING USE OF TREE-FEE-IN-LIEU FUNDS

The City collects tree-fee-in-lieu funds when a contractor cannot retain or replace the required amount of significant trees on the site of a development. Newcastle then uses the collected fees to plant trees elsewhere in the City, such as in parks, right-of-ways or other city-owned properties. However, this provision has not always been easy to implement because it is difficult to find locations off-site where staff could plant replacement trees.

During the meeting, the City Council expanded the allowed uses for tree-fee-in-lieu funds to include the acquisition of real property for the preservation and conservation of trees. Additional amendments to the tree-fee-in-lieu regulations include incentives for developers to plant coniferous trees rather than deciduous ones for the purpose of preserving a healthier tree canopy.

GENERAL UPDATES

— As announced in City Manager Rob Wyman’s report, the King County Conservation Futures Advisory Committee is recommending the City receive a $450,000 matching grant to support Newcastle’s acquisition of the DeLeo Wall property. These are funding recommendations made to the King County Executive, which need to be incorporated into legislation and then approved by the King County Council. Nothing is final until the County Council approves the recommendations. Earlier this year, the City applied for funds to help purchase the parcel through the King County Conservation Futures Program.

— Also announced in City Manager Wyman’s report: The Port of Seattle awarded the City of Newcastle with a $12,000 Economic Development grant. Staff will use the funds to hire a consultant that will study the recently adopted downtown development standards to ensure they are economically feasible and appropriate for our downtown.

— Surface Water Program Manager Audrie Starsy presented details about the new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II permit requirements. View the presentation here.

— The City Council reviewed Planning Commission recommendations regarding changes to the parking requirements for rideshare parking, short-term parking and shopping plaza parking. They did not take any action. Learn more here.

The Newcastle City Council wants to hear from you! Members of the public are invited to share thoughts during public hearings or two open public comment periods at meetings. Regular meetings of the City Council occur on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at City Hall, starting at 7 p.m. You can also email your thoughts to Councilmembers. To send a message to the entire Council, email citycouncil@newcastlewa.gov. You can also email them individually (view all Councilmember emails here).  

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