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Mill Creek delivers services for less cost than most neighboring cities

Altogether, Mill Creek spends relatively little to provide services when compared to other local Puget Sound cities.
Altogether, Mill Creek spends relatively little to provide services when compared to other local Puget Sound cities. Photo credit: News of Mill Creek.

The Mill Creek City Council heard that the City delivers its services for less cost than most neighboring cities of comparable size, population, and/or residents’ demographics at their April 6, 2013 all-day retreat.

As with other Puget Sound cities, Mill Creek provides a variety of services to its citizens. Mill Creek polices the community; plans and guides development; improves and maintains roads, sidewalks, and storm drainage; provides parks and recreation for city residents; and manages outsourcing of other services such as fire protection and garbage collection.

At the April 6, 2013 City Council retreat Landy Manuel, Mill Creek’s Finance Director, presented data showing how much Mill Creek spends per capita compared to 12 other Puget Sound cities of comparable size, median home value, education level, and/or median income. He used per capita costs so that the numbers from the different cities would be more comparable.

Manuel said the source of this information is the Washington State Local Government Financial Reporting System and all information is from 2011.

Police costs

Currently the Mill Creek Police Department has a headcount of about 30 people including 22 police officers and has a 2013-2014 budget of over $8.6 million.

The table below shows that in 2011 Mill Creek spent the third lowest amount per capita for police services of the 12 comparable local cities.

  • Kenmore - $132.67
  • Lake Stevens - $160.40
  • Mill Creek - $185.72
  • Edmonds - $209.73
  • Mukilteo - $213.50
  • Woodinville - $215.18
  • Lake Forest Park - $226.65
  • Arlington - $255.94
  • Mountlake Terrace - $270.12
  • Monroe - $290.88
  • Bothell - $300.76
  • Lynnwood - $415.52

Lynnwood spent much more on police services than the other 11 cities, and spent more than twice as much per capita as Mill Creek.

At the April 6th City Council retreat Ken Armstrong, Mill Creek City Manager, explained police staffing was inline with other cities, “One of the things we looked at are staffing levels for different departments. When we looked at the uniformed officers for Mill Creek compared to comparably sized cities we were almost right dead on. Surprisingly there was very little variance. One of the outliers was Lynnwood, which has a much larger police department than virtually any other city. It’s not surprising that their costs are much higher. It is good to see that we are not an outlier in any way shape or form in regards to staffing.”

Community development costs

Mill Creek’s Community Development Department plans for and guides implementation of development within the City limits. This department was downsized in 2012 in an effort to reduce costs.

The current headcount for this department is 6.5 and has a 2013-2014 budget of $1.6 million.

The table below shows that in 2011 Mill Creek had the fourth highest per capita community development costs of the 12 comparable Puget Sound cities.

  • Mountlake Terrace - $23.39
  • Edmonds - $25.64
  • Lake Forest Park - $27.40
  • Lake Stevens - $32.38
  • Monroe - $36.93
  • Kenmore - $42.69
  • Mukilteo - $43.99
  • Arlington - $48.77
  • Mill Creek - $49.48
  • Lynnwood - $63.47
  • Bothell - $78.80
  • Woodinville - $94.21

When he presented the community development costs Manuel explained that Mill Creek’s 2012 and 2013 community development costs are lower than the 2011 costs because of a cost saving measure enacted in 2012, “This is prior to the time where in the budget cycle that we reduced the planning department by eliminating the planning manger.”

Without the planning manager position Mill Creek’s 2011 per capita community development cost would have been $41.52 or seventh highest according to Manuel.

Engineering and facilities costs

The Mill Creek Public Works Department provides engineering and facilities services. These services include the design and maintenance of roads, sidewalks, storm drainage, and other public facilities.

Currently the Public Works Department has 11 staff members and the department’s 2013-2014 budget is $1.8 million.

The following table shows Mill Creek spent the least per capita amount of the 11 cities that reported engineering and facilities costs. Manuel said he didn’t know why Lake Stevens didn’t enter cost numbers for this service category.

  • Mill Creek - $17.24
  • Monroe - $18.96
  • Lake Forest Park - $22.58
  • Kenmore - $23.79
  • Arlington - $27.63
  • Mukilteo - $28.97
  • Edmonds - $30.02
  • Mountlake Terrace - $31.52
  • Lynnwood - $52.52
  • Woodinville - $55.46
  • Bothell - $82.07
  • Lake Stevens – none reported

These numbers may not reflect operational efficiencies because the cities’ infrastructure may not be comparable.

For example, according to data presented by Tom Gathmann, Mill Creek’s Public Works Director, Bothell maintains 365 lane miles of city streets while Mill Creek only has 189 lane miles of city streets to maintain.

Park maintenance costs

Mill Creek’s Parks and Recreation Department runs year-round recreational activities incuding the City's events, classes, and Freedom Field schedules.

The actual maintenance of community and neighborhood parks, and recreational facilities are performed by Mill Creek's Public Works Department.

The Park Maintenance Division within Public Works is focused on the repair and maintenance of city parks.

Mill Creek’s Park Maintenance Division’s 2013-2014 budget is $642,437.

The following table shows in 2011 Mill Creek spent the fourth lowest per capita amount on park maintenance of the 12 local cities.

  • Lake Stevens - $5.46
  • Kenmore - $13.91
  • Lake Forest Park - $14.40
  • Mill Creek - $15.05
  • Arlington - $17.81
  • Bothell - $23.61
  • Woodinville - $31.71
  • Mukilteo - $33.99
  • Edmonds - $35.72
  • Mountlake Terrace - $39.19
  • Lynnwood - $40.42
  • Monroe - $44.10

Overhead costs (Legislative, Executive, and Finance Departments)

The table below shows that Mill Creek spent the third lowest per capita amount on overhead costs in 2011.

  • Lake Stevens - $20.25
  • Mukilteo - $92.85
  • Mill Creek - $95.37
  • Kenmore - $123.05
  • Mountlake Terrace - $131.59
  • Monroe - $145.95
  • Arlington - $162.85
  • Lake Forest Park - $179.93
  • Woodinville - $186.17
  • Edmonds - $188.91
  • Lynnwood - $203.62
  • Bothell - $255.23

Summary

Altogether, Mill Creek spends relatively little to provide services when compared to other local Puget Sound cities.

It’s interesting to note that in 2011 Mill Creek spent more per capita for police services ($185.72) than all of the other services combined ($177.14).

At the April 6th City Council retreat Armstrong said, “To summarize the demographic information; Mill Creek’s well educated, relatively affluent, high home values, low tax burden, low cost of delivering service. That’s the objective piece. The quality of service, we’d like to think is really high, that is a more subjective thing that we couldn’t really measure for this retreat.”

Editor's note: The original article originally stated that Mill Creek's Parks and Recreation Department maintains the City's Parks. Mill Creek's Public Works Department provides this service.

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