What you missed at yesterday’s City Council meeting

finished water tank mural at vista and thornton 2017-08-23
Water reservoir with mural at Vista Drive and Thornton Street (August 23, 2017). Photo: My Ferndale News

Mayor Jon Mutchler opened the meeting with a request from City staff to remove an agenda item regarding a multifamily tax exemption ordinance from the meeting’s agenda due after receiving questions from Whatcom County Fire District Fire Chief Larry Hoffman that would be “better addressed” during the next City Council Committee meetings. The item was removed with council consent.

During the public comment segment, people were invited to speak on items not on the agenda and several people came forward to address the City Council and City staff.

Comments below are paraphrased highlights unless in quotes.

  1. Jim Pettinger spoke to the mandatory watering schedule. He noted that he was unaware of a need to conserve and would have been “happy to turn my water right off” had he been asked. The mandatory watering schedule and penalties wording and “onerous” penalties should be reconsidered to be less heavy-handed.
  2. Wendy Lawrence spoke to the mandatory watering schedule. She agreed with Pettinger but said, “it is very difficult to be part of the solution when you don’t have enough information.” “With this emergency moratorium coming out-of-the-blue for a lot of us, I don’t have the ability to help because I don’t have no insight to what my water usage is. So I’m flying blind as well.”
  3. Ernest Heinrich spoke to concerns about sidewalk tripping hazards and provided staff with some printed photos of examples. He also spoke to the mandatory watering schedule. “I use natural air-conditioning, trees and plants. I spent lots of money in 50 years to put things in. I’m not going to let them go to waste.”
  4. Gary Patterson said he is manager of the Fertile Meadows Water Association on Imhof Road. “Since the City began drawing water on December 15th, 2011, we have gone from 40-gallon-per-minute artesian (overflowing) well to pumping from 62-feet down.” Patterson recommended returning to the river for the City’s water. “It’s costing us thousands and thousands of dollars to keep our little association going. From what I understand, the Imhof trust that owns our well has senior water rights over the City of Ferndale. And the Department of Ecology has told us there is no guarantee the City will be able to use the new well.”
  5. Perry Eskridge said “I’m frequently up here talking to you about land development issues. Thinking back to the 18 or so years I’ve been doing that, I’m trying to think to the last time we ever had a talk about water infrastructure in the city. The answer from City staff is that we have never really had that discussion.” Eskridge added, “Since I moved here, the same tank at Eagleridge and the same tank at Vista and Thornton have been here, for 20 years.  The amazing thing is we have added 10,000 people to this City in the same amount of time. Someone should have been asking, ‘hey, what are we doing about water storage, pressure, what have you?’ “
  6. Bethany Kennedy spoke to being new to Ferndale and announced she and her husband were opening a digital wellness business.

The Council consent agenda was passed by unanimous vote.

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Mayor Mutchler read a proclamation declaring the week of August 12th to be Community Health Center Week.

City of Ferndale Capital Projects Manager Katy Radder provided an update on the Washington Street, the Portal Way compact roundabout and the Cherry Street / Pioneer Park sidewalk projects.

  1. The Washington Street project is progressing as planned. There has only been one significant delay which occurred due to installation of a new water line pipe with a pinhole leak. It took a couple days to locate the leak and make repairs. A water main made of wood from the early 1900s was recovered during excavation at the project site and Radder brought a piece to share.
  2. Portal Way compact roundabout is a small job and the contractor has only 3 weeks to get the job done. Road widening and utility relocating is underway. Traffic impacts will continue with flaggers guiding drivers through the work area. On schedule to close the northbound on- and off-ramps beginning Monday, August 13th. Detours include making a U-turn via the Grandview Road I-5 interchange.
  3. Cherry Street / Pioneer Park sidewalks have begun. Pioneer Park has been closed so trenches for natural gas and electrical service can be installed before the sidewalks. The Cherry Street sidewalk work will begin Tuesday, August 7th. 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street will be closed to through traffic as a result.

Public Works Director Kevin Renz fielded a question about the status of the installation of air-conditioning at the Ferndale Public Library. He said the contractor was “suffering from a little bit of a staffing shortage.” Work has been delayed a week as a result. “A significant amount of work has been done and I’m hopeful that next week we’ll begin wrapping up that project and have cooler weather indoors for the library.”

A closed public meeting was held allowing City Council to approve and disapprove the East Gate PUD development proposed on Portal Way. This is a proposed 64 residential unit planned unit development (PUD), including 2 mixed-use commercial buildings, located on 3.94 acres at 6170 Portal Way. This development had already received approval from the Hearing Examiner and Planning Commission. It was approved by unanimous vote.

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City Council then undertook discussion of an ordinance in place in the Ferndale Municipal Code since 1981 that defines penalties for violations of mandatory watering schedules. Penalties on the existing ordinance are for $25 for a first offense, $50 for the subsequent offense. Renz noted that for every offense, water would be shut off requiring the home-owner to come to City Hall to pay the fine in order to get their water service restored.

Councilmember Cathy Watson, who was unable to attend the Special Meeting, asked if anyone would entertain reconsideration of the mandatory watering schedule and got no takers.

Renz said the thought processes that resulted in the Special Meeting and mandatory watering schedule followed “seeing  declining levels within the aquafer over the years with reduction in the ability of the city wells to meet peak demands during the summer watering seasons.”

“We were unable to maintain the level within the reservoirs for the city and have been seeing the water level within the reservoirs were declining on a regular basis.”

Renz explained, “The primary responsibility we have is for public life safety. We felt that our ability to respond to a major fire was going to be hindered and we would be drawing the reservoirs down to below what would be an adequate level to support utilization within the city. So we took the emergency steps to put in the mandatory watering restriction. Trying to get reductions in that peak utilization, trying to limit outdoor watering going on in the City to retain those valuable resources for more life safety than ornamental purposes.”

Mutchler said the City includes a notice asking for voluntary watering schedules with the City utility billings mailed at the end of spring each year. “We ask people voluntarily to do this. Most of them do,” Mutchler said.

By a vote of the councilmembers ending in a 4-3 vote with Taylor, Watson and Olson opposing, the penalties of a written warning for the 1st violation of the mandatory watering schedule, a $50 fine for the 2nd violations and a $125 fine for the 3rd and subsequent violations were adopted. By another vote of the councilmembers also ending in a 4-3 vote with Taylor, Watson and Olson opposing, the penalty of water service shut off at the 3rd offense was removed.

City Finance Director Sirke Salminen presented a budget update of major revenue sources as of mid-year 2018. The complete presentation is available by clicking here.

Highlights include:

  • Property tax revenues are right at the forecast
    • includes 1% increase in property taxes
    • and $160,000 banked capacity increase
  • Sales tax revenue is tracking directly with the forecast
  • Transportation Benefit District sales tax revenues are 25% above the forecast
  • Utility tax revenue is close to the forecast
  • Permit fee revenue is equal to the forecast
  • Park impact fee revenue are 25% above the forecast
  • Traffic impact fee revenue is 20% above the forecast
  • Real estate excise tax revenue is 24% above the forecast
  • Water connection fee revenue is 45% above the forecast
  • Water sales revenue is tracking with the forecast
  • Sewer connection fee revenue is close to the forecast
  • Sewer sales revenue is tracking with the forecast
  • Storm drainage utility revenue is 16% above the forecast
  • Solid waste tax revenue is 7% above the forecast

Council discussed how best to use a residence located at 2076 Washington Street purchased by the City in anticipation of a proposed roundabout at Vista Drive and Washington Street that will extend onto the property. A unanimous vote approved allowing Interfaith Coalition to operate transitional housing on the property like they are already doing at an adjacent City-owned property.