Sept. 10, 2019 | Council Community Conversation
Posted on 09/16/2019

The Newcastle City Council wishes to thank all of the citizens who took time out of their busy schedules to join us at our Sept. 10 Community Conversation. It was our most well-attended event yet and the Council truly appreciated the chance to speak with each and every one of you. Your voice makes a difference.

The conversation doesn't have to end there. 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.

We've put together a summary of some of the questions asked by attendees at the Sept. 10 City Council Community Conversation event. Questions and answers were paraphrased and the writeup includes additional information provided by City staff. Click on the arrows below to expand the menu and read the answers.

What’s the status on obtaining a unique ZIP code for Newcastle?

The City of Newcastle has applied for a unique ZIP code on several occasions, and each time, the U.S. Postal Service denied our request. We were told Newcastle simply isn’t large enough for the postal service to undertake the extensive process of providing a unique ZIP code. 

How will Newcastle Police handle an increase in the homeless population within our community?

(Courtesy of Police Chief Jason Houck)People need to understand that homelessness is not a crime, it is an epidemic. Many of the folks forced to live in cars, RVs or camps, are good people down on their luck. Yes, there are some that have issues, cause problems, commit crimes, but those are just the ones you hear about on the news. NPD has run across both types, the hardworking ones down on their luck that cause no problems and the ones that do cause problems. When it comes to the latter of those, we have made it clear within the bounds of our legal authority that Newcastle is not a place for them, and thus far, we have not experienced issues involving them again. With the former, we have provided as much assistance as we have the ability to give to help get these folks the support they need. I understand there is concern about the RVs parked along 132nd Place SE, and we just revamped our parking codes to make it easier for NPD to enforce clear regulations and to move the vehicles along, if necessary.

Did the City Hall purchase contribute to the City’s current financial struggles?

The City Hall purchase continues to save taxpayers money and offers an additional revenue stream as the City collects rental fees from businesses operating in the building. The City Council authorized the property purchase in 2016 after an analysis showed purchasing would save money over the long term compared to paying escalating rental fees. Not only does the City save about $50,000 annually in buying over leasing, we’re gaining equity in a capital asset. Rental income and common area maintenance revenue from tenants help offset the cost of debt service payments.

What can the City do to curb development and restrain growth?

The City has certain limitations on what it can require of a property owner or developer and the Growth Management Act prohibits us from altogether rejecting growth. However, the City Council is doing all that it can to maintain Newcastle’s small-town character. For example, the Council recently lowered the maximum building height limits in the Downtown area to five stories, and it goes down to four stories in the transition area between neighborhoods and the business district. This was done in an effort to control the density in the City’s Downtown area.

Should the City of Newcastle explore consolidation with a neighboring municipality?

This topic was brought up at the 2019 Town Hall meeting, and it appeared that a majority of residents wanted Newcastle to remain its own City. Newcastle is consistently ranked as one of the best small cities in America by national publications. Property values here are high, because people want to live in this unique and healthy environment. Here we have the opportunity to create small, responsive, efficient and innovative government that well serves the needs of our small community. If the City consolidated with a neighboring municipality, residents could lose their say in what happens and what’s built in our 4.5 square mile footprint. Additionally, Newcastle is unique in that so far, we’ve thrived without levying some of the taxes neighboring cities have already imposed upon their residents. So, there’s no guarantee consolidating with another City would save taxpayers money. Erasing Newcastle from the map would only be a measure pursued out of extreme necessity, and Newcastle is not insolvent. City Councilmembers are looking at preparing a plan guaranteeing Newcastle’s sustainability since steps must be taken now to address anticipated shortfalls.

Is the City Council considering a utility tax?

The City of Newcastle does not currently have a utility tax and the City Council has not formally proposed one. It’s one of several options on the table as the City Council looks to address forecasted financial challenges. As public safety costs continue to rise and development income slows down, City operational expenditures outpace incoming revenue, creating an annual structural deficit. That deficit is projected to rise to over $1 million in 2020, and increasing each subsequent year, if the City takes no action.

The City Council will likely rely on a suite of solutions to fix the projected operating budget deficit. That could include cost cuts and new revenue streams. The Council already tackled one cost-cutting measure during the October budget retreat, approving a move to consolidate the roles of two employees into one position. The roles of the Community Activities Coordinator and the contracted Communications Coordinator were combined in an effort to cut staff costs.

Newcastle is one of just three cities (Sammamish and SeaTac) in King County without a utility tax. If the City Council decides to implement a utility tax, they’d have control over which utilities are taxed and at what percentages. Additionally, utility taxes are enacted upon utility organizations, many of which have rate relief programs for those on fixed incomes.

The Newcastle City Council’s work to adopt the 2020 budget kicks in to high gear this October. Staff will present the preliminary budget in mid-October, and from there, the Council will review, discuss and perfect it over the next month. Citizens are encouraged to participate in the budget process and offer feedback. The City of Newcastle is committed to keeping residents informed and involved throughout the budget process. Stay tuned to newcastlewa.gov or subscribe to our email newsletter at newcastlewa.gov/newslettersfor regular meeting notices and recaps.

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