Tukwila residents on Nov. 8 will vote on a $77 million bond measure, which would invest in public safety by funding the replacement of three fire stations, purchase fire equipment and construct a justice center to house the police department and municipal court.
“What we have heard over the years through our strategic plan and everything else is public safety, public safety, public safety,” said Tukwila City Councilwoman Verna Seal, who is also co-chair of the Keep Tukwila Safe political action committee. “And this is, to me, that final piece. Police is fully staffed, fire – we’ve got everything. We’ve looked at this. We’ve studied it.”
The 20-year public safety bond would cost 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home with an assessed value of $250,000 would pay an average of $116 more per year in taxes. About 80 percent of the project costs would be covered by businesses in the city, with homeowners paying about 20 percent, which reflects the current breakdown of existing property taxes, city officials said.
The city’s infrastructure needs were identified in a public safety plan that outlines the replacement seismically deficient and aging facilities.
“The fire stations are in pretty bad shape,” Seal said. “If you have an efficient fire station, you have better response times. … It is something as simple as how fast the door opens.”
The municipal court, which uses the City Council Chambers as a courtroom, needs its own space, Seal said.
“When you have to bring in defendants, they have to come in right in front of the public, right in front of everybody,” she said. “That is a public safety issue.”
The public safety plan also calls for a new $26 million consolidated shops facility for public works, which would not be paid for using bond proceeds. Half the funding for that project would come from water, sewer and surface water funds, the other half would be paid for out of general revenue.
Most of the locations for the new facilities have not been determined. The only site selected so far is for the new Fire Station 51, which will move from Andover Park East to Southcenter Parkway and South 180th Street.
Some residents have asked why the siting would be done after the measure is passed, not before.
“It actually provides everybody more certainty …,” city spokeswoman Rachel Bianchi said. “It is a cleaner and easier process for everybody and provides more certainty if we do that all at once – we have the bond capacity, we do the siting studies, we do the community outreach, we get the input so it is seamless that way.”
The council would seek input from residents throughout the citing process, Bianchi said.
If approved, the bond measure calls for the creation of a financial oversight committee comprised of two residents, two members of the business community and one at-large representative.
“That group, if the bond passes, is tasked with providing that additional transparency, that additional look at things,” Bianchi said.
The committee would be appointed by the City Council and meet regularly and give reports to the council and the public.
Volunteers for Keep Tukwila Safe have been going door to door educating voters about the bond measure.
“The key to success in Tukwila is knocking on doors,” Seal said. “That’s the way you do it. You have to. … People like that face to face. We have a lot voters out there that (say), ‘I want you to come and tell me why that’s what we’re doing.’ “
Support for the measure has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Seal said.
“People want to support first responders and support the city’s efforts on this …,” she said. “I think the people working on the campaign have done a really good job explaining to people that for X amount of dollars – $10-$14 per month – you are going to ensure the future of Tukwila … the safety of Tukwila.”
Resident has concerns about the measure
Tukwila resident Charles Tyson, who helped draft the statement against the bond measure for the county voter’s guide, said he is concerned the city has spent its money on areas other than public safety.
“The fact they are asking for money for that purpose proves safety is not a top priority …,” he said. “The city is always looking for new funding sources instead of living within budget.”
The city has spent much of the last decade addressing public safety, Bianchi said.
“We did a strategic planning process and the No. 1 concern we heard during that process was public safety …, ” she said. “We have hired a number of police officers over the past 10 years and that costs money. It may not have gone into capital, but it went to bodies because that was the direction given by council and that is what (they) heard from the community.”
“That is what we heard from the community,” Seal added. “We heard from the community that we wanted firefighters, we wanted to have our fire stations fully staffed, we wanted to make sure that we could roll out everything and make sure that everything is fully utilized. That takes money to make sure we have the firefighters in place, and that took awhile.”
Tyson also expressed concerns about the oversight committee. The city has too much power in appointing the committee, he said.
“They are not going to pick someone who is in opposition,” he said.
Seal said the city used standard language and modeled the committee after others in the city. The city is not required to have an oversight committee for the bond.
“This is something we added because we wanted the public to be involved and we wanted to be as transparent as we could with everything we do …,” she said. “We felt having that extra input would be helpful to us.”