Issaquah Council — budget, concurrency and credit rating, oh my

Fresh out of the Thanksgiving weekend, Issaquah City Council members had another full plate at their Dec. 1 council meeting.

Fresh out of the Thanksgiving weekend, Issaquah City Council members had another full plate at their Dec. 1 council meeting.

A number of major issues were slated for discussion that night, including the 2009 proposed budget, the status of traffic concurrency, the Issaquah Valley Trolley, an increase in Issaquah’s credit rating, the approval of funds for human services grants and discussion of a letter the council had drafted to the 520 Tolling Commission.

The meeting was the final public hearing regarding the 2009 proposed budget, though few Issaquah residents took advantage of the time to speak. Council President Maureen McCarry authorized city administrators to prepare the final budget ordinance, which will be adopted at the Dec. 15 City Council meeting. She gave a summary of the budget process, which began Oct. 7, and stated the council’s priorities in creating it were “balancing program needs with city resources.” A key focus of the new budget, she said, is the economy and the city’s preparation to deal with the current economic downturn. Overall, the council made $562,000 in expenditure reductions.

Council members praised the budget and the budgeting process, calling it “a long and arduous journey,” but a final document they are all pleased with.

“This budget really represents a tremendous amount of work having been done by the mayor’s office and city staff and I’d certainly like to recognize how much effort goes into making a budget,” Councilman John Rittenhouse said. “The council was very deliberate and very consistent in its approach to trying to keep the budget a conservative document, trying to keep expenditures down and trying to preserve revenues to the extent that we can.”

Councilman Fred Butler echoed this sentiment, and called the budget something he could fully support.

“It’s a very prudent budget, given the uncertainties around the economy … ” he said. “But also a very compassionate budget, because we placed a very high priority on those in need and funding those organizations that reach out and help those that need our assistance.”

Adoption of the budget is scheduled for the council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 in the council chambers at City Hall South.

Concurrency model adjusted

The council also looked at the city’s traffic concurrency model, and passed an ordinance amending it after removing four transportation construction projects from the city’s “A” list, because it was determined they were not reasonably funded. Traffic concurrency measures how well traffic moves through intersections, and how new development will affect that. New development must pass concurrency before it can proceed, and the removal of four proposed transportation routes jeopardized the possibility for new development.

The city planning department is currently developing a new traffic concurrency model that will ensure intersections operate with a higher level of success, but in the meantime, council members passed an ordinance changing the level of concurrency from five screen-point failures and zero critical failures to 13 screen-point failures and four critical failures.

Passing this ordinance was recommended for four reasons, Councilman Joshua Schaer said: it is an interim measure while the new system is prepared, the revised level of service will maintain concurrency during the interim time, it creates more room for economic development in Issaquah during an economic downturn and it is consistent with direction from the court of appeals.

Council members were careful to point out that the ordinance is only temporary.

“What we do with this measure tonight is we decide to simply change the numbers so they come out right,” Rittenhouse said. “These are difficult times, and we don’t want to put a crimp in the city in development times if there are projects that can go forward. But this is an interim step. As we develop and roll out the new system, it is critical that we take a look at this again. So we do this openly, knowingly, and I will support this as an interim measure.”

Credit rating bumped up

The City of Issaquah’s credit rating was recently increased, from AA to AA+.

The increase was announced Nov. 25 by Standard & Poor’s, who released this statement about the city: “In our view, reserves have been strong given good, consistent revenue growth and strong expenditure controls.”

This increase helps lower the interest rates for Issaquah’s bond sales, which will cut down on borrowing costs.

Regional and local employment opportunities were also praised, along with a low unemployment level and prudent cost-cutting measures.

Mayor Ava Frisinger lauded city employers and tax-payers for the success.

“From our city employees to elected leadership, many people helped us achieve this exceptional rating,” Frisinger said.

The council also approved $219,000 in human services grants, and discussed the language in a letter addressed to the State 520 Tolling Commission. Much of the letter focused on the negative impacts tolling Interstate 90 could have on Issaquah residents, and urged the commission to take a serious look at that.