City Council News Recap | November 17, 2020
Posted on 11/18/2020

Originally Posted November 18, 2020. Updated on November 20, 2020.

The Newcastle City Council roundups offer a digest of notable items for those who can't make it to the regular meetings. View the meeting agenda packet here and the meeting video will be posted here when available. View past City Council roundups at newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps.


Editor's Note: City Council news recaps are back after a hiatus. I apologize for the void, as workload pulled me in other directions, but we're back to your regularly scheduled programming. Thanks!

Council Cancels Summer Events, Delays Hiring of Police Officer


As the City looks to manage a projected operating deficit of approximately $600,000, the 2021 preliminary budget calls for expenditure cuts across every department, as well as the elimination of Newcastle’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Following the voters’ rejection of Referendum 2, the Council made further cuts on Tuesday, voting to cancel all of the City’s 2021 summer events and delay the hiring of an additional police officer originally scheduled for late 2020 until 2022.

Newcastle relies on three revenue sources to fund basic City services like police, fire and street maintenance: Property taxes, sales taxes and development revenue. With a limited commercial retail base, declining opportunities for development and ever-increasing public safety costs, the City does not have the revenue streams to provide the current level of service the community has grown accustomed to.

In 2019, Police Chief Jason Houck requested an additional officer to protect Newcastle’s growing City and address residents’ biggest concern – traffic complaints. Newcastle, which already has fewer officers per capita than all but one similar sized City in King County, does not have the staffing to ensure at least two officers are on duty 24/7. That’s problematic, because under certain circumstances, a police officer cannot respond to an incident unless he or she has backup, forcing an officer to wait until a colleague arrives from a neighboring jurisdiction.

The new officer was set to join the City in the second half of 2020, however due to COVID-19 impacts and staffing shortages at the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Newcastle Police Department remained at its current levels this year. The preliminary budget called to delay hiring this officer until April 2021. After voters’ rejected Referendum 2, a measure which would’ve supported public safety costs, the Council voted to further delay hiring this additional officer until January 2022. The decision will reduce costs by about $216,000 in 2021, but it will keep Police Chief Houck’s staff at its current levels for at least another year, even as the City’s population continues to grow. The $216,000 does not represent an officer's full salary, it includes salary and benefits, as well as things like equipment costs (car, uniform, etc.).

The City Council also voted to cancel the 2021 summer events. That means the City’s Fourth of July fireworks show, Concerts in the Park and Newcastle Days will not take place next year in an effort to cut costs. The move will reduce costs by about $20,000, taking into account the loss of revenue from sponsorships and vendor fees. The continued uncertainty of COVID-19 restrictions was also a consideration.

Instead, the Community Activities Commission will have a budget of $15,000 – which represents an annual sponsorship gift from Waste Management – to come up with alternative programs to bring the community together in creative, safe ways in 2021.

The Council also slashed the budget for seasonal maintenance workers in half, reducing costs by about $20,000. Public Works Director Jeff Brauns noted this will result in a decreased level of service, as it impacts vegetation management (weeding) and trail maintenance.

The preliminary budget also decreases the City’s training and travel expenses by half and eliminates the 3% merit-based salary increase for employees in 2021. 

“This is not a reflection on our staff’s quality of work. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, our small staff of employees rose to the call for action, working longer hours, picking up the pieces of unfilled staff positions and responsibilities, all while adapting to a new COVID-19 work environment that certainly comes with its own struggles,” City Manager Wyman said. “However, as the City faces these financial challenges, we all must make sacrifices.”

The Newcastle City Council can choose to make further amendments to the budget at their December 1 meeting before final adoption. Stay tuned to newcastlewa.gov for further details and meeting notes. 

Council Considers Development Agreement

The City Council heard a presentation from a company that hopes to develop the vacant site behind the Newcastle Library into a mixed use development. The Waterline Condominiums would include spaces for ground-floor retail such as restaurants or stores, and 74 condominium units for sale.

The site has some physical constraints that make this project challenging, so the developer is seeking a development agreement that would offer some flexibility to the City’s current standards. The developer is specifically seeking modifications that would allow increased density (from 30 to 74 units), increased building height (from 45 feet to 65 feet) and an exemption from affordable housing requirements.

In return, the developer would supply surplus parking spaces. This project would offer a total of 163 parking stalls, which is above the site’s required 121 spaces. There would be 19 for the Newcastle Library and 37 earmarked for commercial retail customers. Other benefits of the project include sales tax revenue from the sale of condo units and ongoing revenue from retail sales tax.

Overall, the Newcastle City Council expressed several concerns, particularly connected to the building’s height, density, parking and lack of affordable housing. They shared this feedback with staff, who will continue discussions with the developer before any further action.

Newcastle Honored for 2020 Budget Presentation

As noted in City Manager Wyman's report, the Government Finance Officers Association has once again honored the Newcastle Finance Department with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.

In order to receive the award, Newcastle had to satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation. The guidelines are designed to assess how well an entity’s budget serves as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide and communications device.

The award, which honors the City's fiscal year 2020 budget, is considered the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting. Award recipients have pioneered efforts to improve the quality of budgeting and provide an excellent example for other governments throughout North America.

“It’s truly an honor to win this award and a testament to our Finance Department’s hard work and dedication. Newcastle is dedicated to providing a full accounting of tax dollars and the annual budget serves as an important tool in managing the city's finances,” said City Manager Rob Wyman. 

When an entity receives the award, a certificate of recognition is also presented to the individual(s) or department designated as being primarily responsible for having achieved the award. This was given to Don Palmer, the City's Finance Director.

“This award represents a significant achievement and reflects the highest standards and principles of governmental budgeting,” Director Palmer said.

The Government Finance Officers Association serves the needs of nearly 19,000 appointed and elected local, state and provincial-level government officials and other finance practitioners. It provides top quality publications, training programs, services and products designed to enhance the skills and performance of those responsible for government finance policy and management. 

General Updates

- The May Creek Bridge repainting project is officially complete. The City Council accepted the project upon adoption of the consent agenda.

- Newcastle Mayor Linda Newing honored members of the Newcastle Historical Society who led the effort to update the premier source on Newcastle history: "The Coals of Newcastle: A Hundred Years of Hidden History" now available on Amazon.

- As Mayor Newing noted, the City is supporting the business community by handing out an additional $125,000 in emergency grants, and following the Governor’s new restrictions, the support could not come at a better time.

- Read City Manager Rob Wyman's report 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. In accordance with public health orders, meetings of the City Council currently occur virtually on the first and third Tuesdays of each month starting at 6 p.m., unless otherwise noted. You can email your thoughts to Councilmembers at citycouncil@newcastlewa.gov.

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