Tukwila mayor’s legacy: Make the city financially secure

Mayor Jim Haggerton’s years in the mayor’s chair, starting in January 2008, have been financially tumultuous, starting almost immediately with the Great Recession that forced cities to tighten their belts.

Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton

Jim Haggerton has one year left as Tukwila’s mayor and it’s going to be busy.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has worked for and alongside Haggerton in his two decades as an elected official in Tukwila.

Haggerton served 13 years on the City Council before his election as mayor in 2007. He also served on the city’s Planning Commission, as well as numerous regional committees.

Haggerton talked recently about his two terms as mayor leading this city of nearly 20,000 residents and what’s on his “bucket list” in his final months in office – and into the future.

Haggerton wants to leave Tukwila with a strong economic base and safe and walkable neighborhoods, where everyone has a chance to prosper.

“A lot of people say I am really business-oriented,” he said. “But what I am oriented toward is providing a solid financial base for the years to come.”

He wants to make sure everything done in 2015 leaves the city in “solid financial shape” and projects move forward that will benefit the city financially into the future.

“That’s the legacy that I would like to have,” he said.

Haggerton’s years in the mayor’s chair, starting in January 2008, have been financially tumultuous, starting almost immediately with the Great Recession that forced cities to tighten their belts.

Tukwila relies heavily on the sales tax and property tax for revenue. And, of course, much of that sales tax is generated by the economic engine that is Southcenter, with its daily population of around 150,000 workers and shoppers.

That money is used to improve the neighborhood streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure that another city of 20,000 would find a financial stretch. But it’s also needed to provide the streets, utilities and emergency services for that large daytime population.

Sales-tax revenue is trending upward, although gradually, and Haggerton thinks the city will see a “pretty dramatic increase” in sales-tax revenue from new construction in 2015.

Even with these tailwinds, Haggerton proposed and the City Council approved on Nov. 17 – the earliest in Haggerton’s years as an elected official – a hold-the-line budget of about $300 million for the next two years.

The property tax levy was raised by 1 percent, the most possible without a vote of the people.

The city created a new communications department earlier in the year and added a new employee each to code enforcement and the Police Department, mostly by moving staff and money around internally.

Again, with an eye to the future, Haggerton and the City Council are studying the city’s needs for new or refurbished government facilities, including a new police and court building and possibly a consolidated city maintenance shop.

Haggerton has kept a timeline of the city’s accomplishments in the last seven years. He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t take all the credit for those, as they were made by all city officials and the community working together.

And many of the accomplishments are embodied in the city’s Strategic Plan, adopted in 2012, that provides the vision for how the city will spend its money.

Here’s a look at some of those accomplishments and what’s still on Haggerton’s and the city’s “bucket list”:

Southcenter

Much has been happening in the Southcenter Business District, which will become a major transportation hub, a residential neighborhood and a place friendly to pedestrians.

The new transit center on Andover Park West will provide a convenient transfer and starting point for Metro Transit bus riders – basically a bus stop right in the heart of Southcenter’s retail area.

Haggerton repeatedly stresses his vision to make Tukwila more pedestrian-friendly and walkable to work, home and entertainment.

Jumpstarting the city’s vision of a place to stroll, eat outdoors and get a drink on the Baker Boulevard corridor is Odin Brewing Co. Nearby will rise the 19-story Washington Place, home to hundreds of new residents and a place for visitors to stay.

Of course Baker Boulevard runs right into Westfield-Southcenter on the west and a new pedestrian bridge over the Green River will extend Baker east toward Tukwila Sounder Station, a major stop for buses and Amtrak and commuter-rail trains.

Haggerton wants to break up Southcenter’s “mega-blocks,” which force people to get into their cars, rather than walk to their next destination.

The city is still looking for the money to extend Strander Boulevard from West Valley Highway to Southwest 37th Street in Renton, which will provide another east-west corridor and access to the Sounder station.

Streets

The City of Tukwila is already at work on upgrading South 150th Street between 42nd Avenue South and Tukwila International Boulevard to make it safer for students (and other pedestrians) to walk to and from Thorndyke Elementary School. Work will resume in the spring when weather improves.

Not far away is the 42nd Avenue’s steep ascent into McMicken Heights, under the Link light-rail line. It’s a popular route for residents walking to and from the light-rail station on Tukwila International Boulevard and to the Safeway store at the top of the hill.

But without shoulders the road is not safe for pedestrians, Haggerton said.

Improving 42nd Avenue is the final phase of road improvements in the immediate area that include Southcenter Boulevard.

Tukwila is negotiating a new franchise agreement with Seattle City Light, which would include burying the 42nd Avenue powerlines underground – one of Haggerton’s priorities for such projects.

Cost to underground utilities is cost-prohibitive for the city, according to Haggerton; but the agreement under negotiations with Seattle City Light would split the cost for 42nd Avenue undergrounding at 60 percent for the Seattle utility and 40 percent for the city, he said.

“I want to get the city so it’s a lot more walkable, so we have sidewalks and safe streets and people can walk to the stores,” he said.

At home

Haggerton wanted to beef up code enforcement to more consistently enforce laws that speak to the image and safety of the city’s neighborhoods. For example, there’s a law that vehicles must be parked on an impervious surface, such as a driveway or street.

Too often, vehicles get parked on the front lawn, in violation of the law.

“But to have the neighborhoods that we really want to see and to have the image we want to portray, we have to get on top of that. So we need a little stronger code enforcement,” he said.

Light rail

The city is working with businesses near Boeing Field, including BECU and the Sabey Corp., as well as the Museum of Flight and Aviation High School, to get a light-rail station reinstated at the Boeing Access Road. It was taken out of a regional plan because of lack of funding.

Haggerton said there’s a “big need for transportation” in north Tukwila to serve businesses and workers and a light-rail station would provide a hub to bus people on that area’s major thoroughfares, including East Marginal Way.

Haggerton is trying to convince Metro Transit to extend the popular RapidRide A Line all the way along Tukwila International Boulevard from the Tukwila Station to a new light-rail station in this big employment center.

“It would get excellent ridership,” and not be too expensive, he said.

The new RapidRide F Line traveling east to west through Tukwila on Southcenter Boulevard has already proved popular.

The Boulevard

Perhaps not commonly known, Tukwila International Boulevard – state Highway 99 elsewhere – is a city-owned street under an agreement reached between the city and the state of Washington years ago.

Highway 99 was accident-prone, powerlines crossed the road and business signs were gaudy, Haggerton said. In phases, the city changed all that, including enforcing a new sign code and undergrounding powerlines.

“It’s made all the difference in the world up there,” he said.

Then, in August 2013, the city, with the assistance of local and federal agencies, seized three crime-ridden motels. The city now owns the motels and will demolish them within a several months. Developers have already expressed an interest in buying the properties, Haggerton said.

Ground was broken last summer on Tukwila Village, another visionary project that has spanned mayoral terms. Along with ridding the Boulevard of the motels, that project promises to weave a strong social fabric for that Tukwila neighborhood with its housing, new KCLS library and shops.

“So once we do all that, it’s going to make a big big difference toward accomplishing our vision of Tukwila International Boulevard,” Haggerton said.

Tukwila South

Another project that was years in the policy making is the Segale family’s Tukwila South, a multi-use development just south of Southcenter that will provide thousands of jobs and new revenue for the city.

One of Haggerton’s top priorities when he took office in 2008 was to complete the Tukwila South development agreement. He held weekly meetings with city staff and Segale representatives, reaching a final agreement in mid-2009.

The agreement was good for the city and good for the developer, too, Haggerton said. “It didn’t give them everything they wanted, but we’re not all going to get everything that we want,” he said.

Tukwila South will take years to fully develop and the city won’t see the benefits in the short term. But it’s probably the biggest example of helping to secure the city’s financial health.

“It’s a good one going into the future,” he said.

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