After more than a year’s work by consultants, Mill Creek City staff, and Mill Creek City councilmembers the Mill Creek City Council voted four to three to approve the strategic plan at the April 10th City Council meeting.
Mill Creek’s strategic planning process kicked off in April of 2011. The strategic planning process included three separate city council retreats, approximately 600 resident telephone surveys, a series of community outreach events, and a number of public meetings inviting public comments.
At the final public meeting held on April 3rd, a number of Mill Creek residents applauded the strategic planning effort. Larry Mayer expressed his thanks to City staff and said he could see that his input got into the final plan.
Some Mill Creek residents believe that the strategic plan is an excuse to increase taxes. At the April 3rd public meeting, Dennis Teschlog said, “I think this is a strategic tax plan.” He went on to say that he was concerned about the City’s growing deficit.
The four city councilmembers who voted for the plan are Mike Todd, Bart Masterson, Kathy Nielson, and Donna Michelson. At the April 10th City Council meeting they all expressed their belief that the strategic plan gives them a framework for addressing the City’s difficult fiscal situation.
Mayor Todd said that a yes vote is not necessarily a vote for increasing taxes, “The way I read it now, the strategy is that we need to get to a balanced fiscal situation by 2017-2018, and that we have an action item that we start working on that issue at the May 18th retreat.”
Masterson agreed with Todd. “We have to face these issues and these alternatives,” he said. “This just codifies the alternatives that we will look at in our fiduciary and elected responsibility anyway. I don’t think this ties us to a set of fiscal strategies other than get it balanced and deal with the future as it comes at us with foresight and courage.”
Nielson also supports the strategic plan. “This is a vision document,” she said. “But the intent of this product was to bring the seven of us together to at least have a vision for today, and two or five years down the road. Whatever we have to do on the financial side will be dealt with our budgets. I don’t see this is a tax and spend product, this is a product to assist this council and future councils with some guidance and some direction.”
Michelson also supports the strategic plan. “This has been our radar for fourteen months,” she said. “I am going to support this document.”
The three city councilmembers who voted against the strategic plan are Mark Bond, Mark Harmsworth, and Terry Ryan. During the April 10th City Council meeting they said they couldn’t vote for the strategic plan because it includes tax increases as one of the fiscal alternatives for addressing the increasing budget deficits.
Bond said he was struggling with a yes vote because of the possible perception that he supports tax increases. “Tied into this is a tax plan to maintain the current service levels.“ he said. “I know that we are going to talk at our retreat about our financial future and our strategy of how we are going to meet our financial obligations and how we are going to maintain service levels. After we have that discussion I would be comfortable about coming back to this because of the perception that if I vote for this I therefor support increasing taxes and I don’t.” In the end he voted “nay.”
Harmsworth thanked the staff and council for their hard work on the strategic plan. “The thing that I did like about this is that it gives us good vision,” he said. “The thing that frustrated me is that we get lost in the minutia around some of the financial details rather than focusing on strategy and vision. We’ve got some good stuff up front. But then we have an implementation plan that calls for local revitalization funds in the third quarter of 2012 and 1% tax increases every year, which I can’t support yet. With much disappointment at some level because I like the goals and community feedback but I will be voting no for these reasons.”
Ryan said he also liked the community input but still couldn’t support the strategic plan. “I too share the concerns about the tax increases. It’s all good and well to say it is in the back of the folder, but it is the folder and is part of the plan. So I will be voting no.”
Here is an outline of the new Mill Creek strategic plan:
Strategic Plan Goals
1) Maintain Mill Creek’s Community Character
- Ensure that City development standards are maintained or improved to achieve high quality design in new development.
- Take steps to ensure that Mill Creek continues to be a very walk able city.
2) Provide an adequate level of quality public facilities in a fiscally prudent manner
- Continue to implement a long-term pavement preservation program by the end of 2013.
- Identify which new City-owned public facilities are needed in Mill Creek and identify when they should be constructed.
3) Provide a high level of quality public services to the citizens of Mill Creek
- Maintain an adequate level of City staff to ensure continued high levels of service to Mill Creek’s citizens.
4) Ensure that Mill Creek achieves and maintains a stable fiscal footing
- Attain fiscal stability by the 2017/2018 biennium that does not require annually spending down reserves.
- Limit increases in general fund expenditures to the minimum possible to maintain levels of service or to add/enhance services and programs to meet community need.
- Establish a desired level of City reserves.
- Institute annual review of economic indicators by end of 2012.
5) Enhance economic and employment opportunities in Mill Creek
- Encourage development of the East Gateway Urban Village master plan.
- Encourage high quality design in other commercially zoned properties within Mill Creek.
- Assess the commercial land uses allowed by the City’s land use map and zoning map to ensure they represent an optimal mix for Mill Creek.
6) Ensure that new growth and development is high quality and provides a benefit to Mill Creek
- Annexation proposals shall be carefully evaluated for both short-term and long-term benefits to Mill Creek.
- Mill Creek should monitor development proposals within its MUGA (Municipal Urban Growth Area) and take steps to protect the interests of the City.