Safety concerns addressed as city approves 14 budget
By Craig Howard
The Liberty Lake City Council wrapped up 2013 by passing a budget that will take strides to improve safety conditions on municipal streets and sidewalks.
On Dec. 17, following in the footsteps of a $30,000 amendment to this year's budget for LED crosswalk warning systems, the governing board shifted $75,000 originally slated for a concession stand in Pavillion Park to a fund that will address street lighting and additional pedestrian safety crossings in 2014. Council also earmarked up to $100,000 in surplus sales tax revenue from 2013 to the same fund.
The 2014 budget - ringing in at $11.7 million - was approved by a 5-1 margin with Council Member Lori Olander in the minority. Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford missed the meeting with an excused absence.
"We have ourselves a budget," said Mayor Steve Peterson.
The financial game plan for next year will also include $25,000 in added salary and benefits for city staff, $50,000 more for the design phase of Liberty Lake Road and $130,000 for a restroom in the yet-to-be built Townsquare Park. Funds in the amount of $100,000 for public art at the Harvard Road roundabout have been eliminated while a $610,000 interfund loan to the LIFT (Local Infrastructure Financing Tool) will include a dollar-for-dollar state match and eventually be repaid to the general fund.
Council also voted in favor of the interlocal agreement with Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service for 2014 at the Dec. 17 meeting. The contract with SCRAPS was adjusted from $5,700 to $9,703.
With some discussion, council approved an agreement with the Spokane Transit Authority that will see STA allocating $81,000 to the Townsquare Park project. The bulk of the $655,000 construction price will be paid through the city's real estate excise tax. City Administrator Katy Allen assured council that STA - which operates a park-and-ride lot on the site - would be fully refunded if the project did not materialize. The project would add 39 parking spaces at the site.
Another funding situation with a different transportation entity including a few more rumblings on Dec. 17.
Faced with overage charges from the Washington State Department of Transportation for the roundabout project, council voted to hold off on payment until a letter from the mayor could be sent. WSDOT has surpassed the original budget by 25 percent, a difference that Allen said "should have been included on the front end of the agreement."
"My goal is to get down to why these numbers changed on the management side," the mayor said. "I look at this as a case study."
Council Member Josh Beckett raised the motion to address the issue before paying the additional cost.
"We should not just write DOT a check and call it good," Beckett said. "We should negotiate. We have a responsibility to our taxpayers."
The DOT impasse mirrored a different scenario on the table Dec. 17, this one involving a decision by the Board of Spokane County Commissioners.
Earlier in the day, Allen attended a county hearing that featured a unanimous vote by the board to include Liberty Lake and the city of Spokane Valley in the jurisdictional area for noxious weed enforcement. Allen had recommended that Liberty Lake - which already has its own noxious weed program in place - not be included in the amendment.
At a rate of $3 per land parcel, the county collects $9,500 from Liberty Lake and $94,000 from Spokane Valley each year for the program. While the county facilitates education and outreach, Allen said "there is still a question about the overall benefit of the program to the city."
"We shouldn't be subsidizing the rest of the county, especially if we already have our own program," said Council Member Cris Kaminskas.
Council directed City Attorney Sean Boutz to look into options the city might have regarding the county's decision.
"Everyone should pay into this," Peterson said. "Why not Spokane, Cheney, Deer Park or Rockford?"
From funds for more street lights to talk of a new, solar powered crosswalk, illumination emerged as the prevailing theme at the Liberty Lake City Council meeting on Dec. 3.
In a 6-1 vote, the governing board approved an ordinance amending the 2013 budget to the tune of $30,000 for an LED crosswalk warning system that will be installed at the intersection of Mission and Country Vista.
Police Chief Brian Asmus told council there have been four accidents in the past three weeks involving pedestrians in marked crosswalks being struck by vehicles. While additions like street lighting and illuminated crosswalks will address the mechanical side of the issue, Asmus said the police department will also be launching an educational campaign to improve awareness.
"It will include tips for motorists and pedestrians as well as a review of state pedestrian laws," Asmus said. "We just want to keep the community safe."
Asmus said officers have reported seeing a number of pedestrians at night wearing dark, non-reflective clothing. He stressed that those out during those hours should be visible to motorists.
The police department will also be conducting pedestrian safety emphasis patrols during the winter months. Violations could result in a citation of $124
City Administrator Katy Allen said the city has been hearing concerns about pedestrian safety from property owners, especially along Appleway. Meanwhile, the city's finance committee has been discussing ways to bolster the line item for pedestrian safety in the street fund. Council Member Shane Brickner proposed that $75,000 originally earmarked for a new concession stand at Pavillion Park be moved to the fund in 2014. Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford added that the committee is also recommending that sales tax revenue from December - above and beyond the city's projections for 2013 - be included in the fund.
"We see the importance of increasing safety for pedestrians," Brickner said.
In addition to the $30,000 crosswalk, Ordinance 204-E added a pair of amendments to the 2013 budget, starting with an appropriation of $60,000 to the Harvard Road Mitigation Fund to help cover excess costs from the Harvard Road Roundabout. The final amendment included a shift of $610,000 to the Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) fund that will include a dollar for dollar state match.
The added cost for the roundabout - involving traffic control during construction - had several council members and Mayor Steve Peterson peppering Darrel McCallum of the Washington State Department of Transportation with questions after McCallum provided an overview of the project and the reasons for the overage charges.
McCallum noted that WSDOT was focused on keeping the well-traveled intersection open during construction in order to minimize the impact on surrounding businesses. When vehicles began to back up more than anticipated, adjustments were made to traffic control and costs shifted.
"Public safety was really the key," said McCallum.
Allen noted that the additional cost to the city is now projected at $86,000.
In voicing her concern about additional city funds being spent on the roundabout, Council Member Cris Kaminskas compared the project to a house being bid to a contractor who continually tacks on costs to the original estimate.
"At what point do we know extra costs are not going to be incurred?" Kaminskas said.
Brickner expressed disappointment that council did not hear about the overage issue until November when city staff was aware of it in September.
"This goes back to communication," Brickner said.
McCallum said the roundabout "was never considered to be a lump sum project," noting that the overall work consisted of 89 bid items.
"This was a complicated, difficult project," McCallum said. "You need to have flexibility in the contract to address adjustments in on-site conditions."
Peterson countered by saying that while issues surrounding construction may fluctuate, WSDOT had more control of the management side of the project.
"We don't expect these cost differences because you should know how many hours you're going to be out there to manage things," Peterson said.