Langley residents may be asked for levy lid lift, officials say
By JUSTIN BURNETT
South Whidbey Record Island County
September 3, 2012 · Updated 8:32 AM
The Village by the Sea needs a little spiffing up and the time may be fast approaching to rack up some debt and make a pitch for a levy lid lift, according to Langley elected officials.
The City Council, Mayor Larry Kwarsick and city department heads convened in a special meeting Wednesday to go over proposed policy changes for the 2013 budget and to voice their individual wish lists.
As designed, the meeting resulted in the free-flow of ideas about where money could be spent if it was available. They ranged from property and equipment purchases to hiring a gardener to handle summer landscaping.
But, like any wish list, many of the proposals are currently out of reach and city leaders talked about several ways of drumming up additional funding. One of the more popular ideas was to borrow it.
The current lending market is alluring — rates are 1 percent and lower — and the construction industry continues to struggle for work, which increases the likelihood of getting low bids on capital projects. And the city has very little existing city debt.
“If there were a time to borrow money, this is probably the time in history to do it,” Councilman Hal Seligson said.
Kwarsick also spoke favorably of long-term investment, but said city coffers will need to be a bit fuller first. He suggested that the council consider moving forward with a tax hike in the not-so-distant future.
“Even though it’s a great time for debt, we need money to pay that debt,” Kwarsick said.
Kwarsick opened the workshop by telling attendees not to be shy, that this is the time to make their wants known without having to worry about existing funding levels. Council members and staff alike needed little prodding.
Councilman Jim Sundberg emphasized the pursuit of grants, but talked about his hopes of continuing existing city initiatives with select capital projects, such as infrastructure improvements and the Second Street renovation.
He also pushed for additional staffing help in the police and planning departments, both of which have seen personnel reductions in recent years.
Councilwoman Rene Neff said volunteers have been helping to take care of the city’s landscaping for several years, but it’s a big job.
“We’re all 55 and older,” she said, earning a round of chuckling from those in the room. “It’s really difficult.”
She said it’s beginning to show with dead plants. That’s a problem because the appearance of the town is an important part of its appeal to visitors. Neff said she would support hiring a professional gardener from April to the end of September.
“I know it seems like fluff. It’s really not fluff when it comes to economic development,” Neff said.
She also suggested buying waterfront property near the marina and constructing cabins for overnight visitors who come to the city by water or land, while Councilman Doug Allderdice talked about the need to connect Seawall Park and the Marina.
City staff members had a number of ideas as well. Community Planning Director Jeff Arango suggested a greater reliance on professionals rather than volunteers for select projects and also recommended a new website.
Police Chief Randy Heston had quite a few ideas, rattling off a hefty list that ranged from requests for an additional officer and the need for a police presence in schools to equipment upgrades and a recommendation for a hotel.
As far as a levy lid lift goes, nothing specific was decided. Kwarsick said it was too soon to propose a tax hike for the 2013 budget cycle, but suggested that city leaders begin formulating plans with the community next year.
“I strongly believe it’s time for us to invest in the city so that others will invest in the city,” he said.
If he has his way, the mayor said any proposal would be very specific, paying for specific projects or programs and expire once everything is paid off.
Contact South Whidbey Record Island County Justin Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.