Annual Council retreat sheds light on priorities
8/20/2014 9:54:24 PM
By Craig Howard
The Liberty Lake City Council faced up to a myriad of municipal issues at its annual retreat on Aug. 19.
Spanning nearly four hours, the annual discussion of the most pressing city matters recalled the early days following incorporation in 2001, when meetings of the governing board routinely ran into overtime. For council members like Odin Langford, the detailed dialogue simply represented part of the commitment he and other elected officials signed on for when they ran for office.
"There's a sense of community you find in Liberty Lake that you don't see in a lot of places," Langford said. "Our job is to make sure we keep that going."
The retreat was divided into two workshop segments with council focusing on long-term projects and policy discussions first, followed by a budget workshop.
Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small began the series of workshop conversations by providing an update of the district's five-year strategic plan, covering 2014 to 2018. Small said CVSD and the city shared a priority of "community building," pointing to the recent construction of the Liberty Lake Ballfields on land once owned by the district and sold to the city.
Small said the district will emphasize "breaking down barriers to learning" while "creating systems in every classroom that the district supports." He said students "should understand their career pursuit before leaving high school" and pointed to the success of Spokane Valley Tech as an avenue for instilling professional direction.
Small referred to the capital facilities bond that will be on the ballot next February, saying that passage "can set up a huge success for our kids." A district win would likely mean construction of a new K-2 elementary school in Liberty Lake to the east of the ballfields, Small said. He said CVSD continued to explore potential sites for a new middle school in Liberty Lake and noted that the expansion of Evergreen Middle School with a ‘yes' vote next February would expand that school's boundary to the east. The shift would mean protecting the boundary of Greenacres Middle School and keeping more Liberty Lake-based students near home.
Passing another capital facilities initiative in 2018 or 2019, Small said, would allow CVSD to move ahead with construction of a new high school on Henry Road and 16th Avenue that would house students from Liberty Lake. The inventory of three high schools would mean an equal distribution of around 1,400 students at each campus.
Small pointed out several of the district's successes, such as a 90 percent graduation rate and stellar science marks among elementary school students. He said the district fully understands that "every student learns differently" and said alternative programs like Spokane Valley Tech, Barker High School and online opportunities "serve as different pathways of learning for kids."
The aging structure that serves as the welcome mat to Trailhead Golf Course received its share of scrutiny on Tuesday night as council continued to contemplate the future of the building and the valuable parcel of land it calls home.
Council did reach a consensus that it wanted to maintain ownership of the property, though Council Member Bob Moore expressed concern that, with limited room to expand, "it would be very difficult to develop on that site."
"I think we need to decide what sort of business we want to be in there," Moore said.
Others, like Langford, postulated that the plot shouldn't necessarily be confined to its current use, saying options like a batting cage and putt-putt golf could be viable.
"Is it our thought that this is always just going to stay golf?" Langford questioned.
Council Member Hugh Severs said it would be important to gauge community feedback on the future of the land, while Council Member Dan Dunne emphasized that Trailhead represents an accessible venue for golfers of varying skill levels.
"This is an open space gesture," Dunne said. "It's entertainment and an amenity for our community. To replace it with buildings or impervious surface would do an injustice."
Council Member Shane Brickner went one step further, saying the loss of Trailhead "would be devastating."
Most around the dais agreed that taking on debt to fund improvements at the site would be a reasonable option. The city issued a $2.4 million bond to buy Trailhead in 2002, a note that will be paid off in 2017.
"With a good revenue stream, it's just a transfer of cash," said Mayor Steve Peterson, who led the charge to purchase the course when it was still known as Valley View.
"For growth in the future, you have to invest," Brickner added.
While Langford acknowledged that the city "could take on a predetermined amount of debt" for Trailhead renovations, he reminded his colleagues that "to provide for the future, it has to be a cash resource." He noted that recreational expenditures like golf are often the first aspect of a personal budget to be jettisoned when the economy falters.
City Administrator Katy Allen said with council reaching a general consensus to move forward in some fashion at Trailhead, the issue could be brought up for a workshop at a future meeting.
"This at least gives us a foundation of what we'd like to do," Peterson said.
With an extensive background in the financial operations of large-scale companies, Moore brought the issue of fiscal reporting to the table on Tuesday, saying he was "concerned with the lack of information" distributed to council. Currently, the governing board receives quarterly reports as required by statute.
"I think it's difficult to make financial decisions when the information is three or three-and-a-half months old," Moore said. "It's really not current; it's historical."
While the numbers are presented consistently each quarter, Moore said "it's difficult to determine what the significance of that data is." He recommended the city issue more detailed reports that contain analysis of trends and other insight.
Langford recommended that staff "put data in English that people can understand" and referred to a recent training at an Association of Washington Cities conference that referred to approaches certain cities use that make financial reporting easier to follow.
Finance Director R.J. Stevenson said he would compile a report for council in September that took the recommendations into consideration.
Police Chief Brian Asmus provided an update on the city's moratorium related to the sale, processing and production of marijuana on Tuesday. Council voted on July 15 to continue the temporary ban for another six months as the end of the first moratorium, established in January, approached.
Asmus pointed out that Liberty Lake "is not alone in our moratorium" connected to I-502 that passed statewide in November 2012 by a 56-percent margin. The initiative failed among voters in Liberty Lake.
"The majority of the cities have something in place," Asmus said.
Wenatchee and Fife are both being challenged in court over their respective moratoriums. The case in Fife will be heard Aug. 29.
Asmus referred to a recent decision by the Spokane Valley City Council stipulating that marijuana retail operations in municipal boundaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of a trail. I-502 spells out buffer zones within the same distance of schools and libraries.
Council expressed interest in implementing the trail limits in Liberty Lake. Peterson pointed out that with the abundance of walkways, bike paths and sidewalks in the city, such a ruling would effectively preclude any marijuana-related business from functioning within municipal limits.
"If you take the 1,000-foot delineation, you've effectively banned it," the mayor said.
Langford emphasized that city leaders "have moral laws to uphold" despite the implementation of I-502.
"When people come up to you and say, ‘Would you please not allow this,' we have a right to represent those people who don't want any part of it," he said.
Council agreed to move ahead on an ordinance that would establish criminal repercussions for minors consuming marijuana, not simply possessing the drug. Asmus said the department would utilize an officer trained in drug recognition to deal with such cases.
"My main goal is to protect our kids," said Mayor Pro Tem Cris Kaminskas.
The city will tune into the results of the Fife case later this month before making a decision on the current moratorium. In the meantime, Asmus and City Attorney Sean Boutz will be exploring the proposed trail boundaries. Council might also consider interim zoning regulations related to I-502 activities.
Allen said the city has received around a dozen requests to operate mobile food trucks within city limits. Currently, such vendors need to be connected to a community event to set up shop in Liberty Lake.
"I want to see how you want to manage this moving forward," Allen told council.
Allen noted that in the city of Spokane, mobile vendors are required to secure a 30-day permit and renew it after expiration. Spokane County requires such businesses to have a food handlers permit as well as supplies like fire extinguishers and garbage cans. Other regulations include a limit to the hours of operation and maintaining an established distance from "brick and mortar" restaurants.
Allen brought up the case of the White House Grill, which until recently maintained a presence outside the Liberty Lake Portal. She said the business operated a mobile business due to the fact that it "has discussed a permanent building with the city" and has a temporary building permit in place.
"They have a year to build a permanent structure," Allen said.
Options for Liberty Lake could include holding some form of lottery each year to determine the mobile food permits issued within city limits. Severs stressed that the city needs to maintain the ability to revoke a permit if vendors create issues with traffic congestion or impact visibility on city streets. The city must also grapple with the issue of vendors on public vs. private property.
"I think it's something we definitely need to address and put some parameters in place," Kaminskas said.
The final portion of the retreat featured a review of capital projects starting with the Liberty Lake Ballfields, which wrapped up construction earlier this month. The summer's other high-profile project, Town Square Park, is slated for completion Oct. 1.
"I think there's been a lot of positive response from the community about what we've been able to accomplish," Allen said.
Upcoming projects include a major renovation of Appleway Avenue in 2015. City Engineer Andrew Staples told council on Tuesday that if a proposed upgrade of the traffic signal on Appleway and Liberty Lake Road was not included in the budget for next year, it would be included in the proposal for separate improvements on Liberty Lake Road in 2016.
The budgetary wish list for 2015 includes, among other things, a permanent concession structure at Pavillion Park, floor repair at City Hall, an additional police officer and the return of Liberty Lake Days. Moore added that he would like to see cost proposals for lighting on the Trailhead Golf Course as well as charger outlets for electric cars.
When it came to topics of emphasis for 2015, council members chimed in with their top two picks. While recommendations like a new senior center and the Appleway signal upgrade made the list, the vast majority mentioned the Trailhead facility and a new aquatic center as the city's most significant priorities.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 2 at City Hall.