Should Mukilteo spend newfound money on gulch land or projects?
MUKILTEO - In Mukilteo, a debate is brewing on a $183,000 question: Should that money go toward preserving Japanese Gulch or toward other city projects?
The city received $183,000 from selling city land at Third Street and Park Avenue and officials proposed putting that toward efforts to buy more land in Japanese Gulch.
The suggestion, though, spurred a debate last week among City Council members about if the city already has spent enough. The city has spent millions of dollars toward acquiring Japanese Gulch property already, and the city faces a $2 million revenue shortfall in its latest budget estimates.
At stake is the last central piece of the gulch, a 97.7-acre parcel owned by the Metropolitan Creditor’s Trust group. The city has to come up with a decision soon or the bankruptcy court holding the property for Mukilteo will release it to the general market again, Mayor Joe Marine said.
Also at stake are residents’ tax bills, critics say. The city, for example, introduced a utility tax recently to help pay for utility infrastructure.
Marine wants a public survey on whether or not residents want to put more taxpayer money toward the gulch. If residents say yes, the city could ask voters on the November ballot whether the city should issue a bond to purchase that last parcel.
“We shouldn’t spend another dime until we get input from the citizens,” Marine said.
The nonprofit Japanese Gulch Group is developing the survey.
The council came to no decision on how the $183,000 should be spent because of mixed feelings that the city needs to be cautious about going on a “spending spree for parks,” as Councilman Randy Lord put it.
“We’ve spent more on parks and arts in the past five years than we have in 50 years,” Lord said.
Lord suggested the council create a priorities list on spending, but that narrowly failed with Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson and Councilmen Richard Emery, Kevin Stoltz and Steve Schmalz voting no.
Even the most vocal supporters of Japanese Gulch are questioning spending more city money.
“I worry about continuing the spending spree, which essentially is what it is,” said Stoltz, a Japanese Gulch volunteer trail builder. Stoltz said he is against spending any more money until Mukilteo has a balanced budget and recommended putting the decision off for six months.
“Tonight, we’re going to spend more money we don’t have,” Stoltz said.
Emery, the former Japanese Gulch Group president, agreed with being cautious, but said the opportunity to acquire the Metropolitan piece is now.
“There’s a sense of urgency to make an offer,” Emery said.
Emery proposed the council allow the city to buy similar properties with the money, which in this case would go toward the gulch. That failed 5-2, with Gregerson being the only other supporter.
The Japanese Gulch Group urged the city to direct the money toward gulch efforts. The $183,000 is a small piece to go toward the purchase, but group director Sabrina Bolieu admits the effort is $2 million to $3 million off from the estimated $6 million purchase price for the Metropolitan Trust property.
Directing the money toward Japanese Gulch makes a statement to grant writers that the city is serious, Bolieu said.
“They say it’s a small drop in the bucket because it goes straight to land acquisition,” but “it shows the commitment,” Bolieu told the Tribune.
The city’s parks and arts commission recommended in July putting the money toward parks, with acquiring Japanese Gulch land their No. 1 priority.
The only resident to speak out opposed was council watcher Charlie Pancerzewski.
The money should go toward repaying the cost of another gulch parcel called the Precht property, Pancerzewski said.
The city spent $1.9 million toward purchasing the Precht property in 2009. Mukilteo spent $1 million in real estate excise taxes and $115,000 in park acquisition funds for that purchase, city finance manager Scott James said.
Bolieu said she wasn’t disappointed the council didn’t come to a conclusion July 16.
“It shows the council is comprehensively looking at this,” Bolieu said.