February 9, 2010
REPORT: MAYOR HARDING'S RESERVED STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS TODAY
Yelm Mayor Ron Harding delivered his annual State of the City Address before the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce Forum luncheon attendees at the Nisqually Valley Moose Lodge today. This year's talk was very distinctive for what was not included and in addition to a reserved tone, lacked the passion, enthusiasm & excitement demonstrated by the Mayor at his 4 previous Annual Addresses (More about this at the end).
The Mayor opened his talk by saying he has a huge sense of pride at what has been accomplished during the last four years of his term in office, and very rightly so. He is most-proud of the Yelm Historic Museum Project, in that building did not cost alot of money & gave the community the opportunity to learn about the history here. He gave what he called a "plug" to get more people to visit.
Mayor Harding said he wanted the focus of his talk today to reflect on past accomplishments benefiting the city since he became Mayor:
- Yelm Ave. West center turn lane, sidewalks, light poles
- Killion Rd. intersection & road upgrade
- Planter strips & trees on road projects
- Stevens St. W.
- Stevens St. NE
- Coats Rd.
- 103rd Ave.
- Longmire Park
- Longmire Park playground equipment
- Yelm Prairie Line Trail
- Remodel of City Hall Council Chambers for offices & public documents access
- Public Safety Building opening
among many others.
- Phase 1 of the Yelm Loop Project will be out-to-bid this month and opened by the end of 2010, giving motorists a choice to access the city via Yelm Ave. West or via the Loop through to Killion Rd.
- The last phase of Longmire Park is happening with installation of flush toilets and a concession stand. Mayor Harding said there will be a huge benefit of having flush toilets for the many kids playing at the Park (the porta-potties had been working just fine for the small expense). In a jab at this writer's NVN Letter to Editor this week about a state grant for $400,000 for park toilets where I asked if these were gold-plated, he said there are "No gold plated toilet seats."
Mayor Harding wrapped up this section by saying, "That is it on projects."
1. Yelm Library's Future
Mr. Harding stated 6 or 7 years ago (actually, it was in 2001) Timberland Regional Library (TRL) wanted a larger space here, signing a 10 year agreement for a rented facility that is coming to an end. The City of Yelm will support a library here, however not to the size & stature to which the community has grown accustomed with this one in Prairie Park. The mayor feels there needs to be a balance of money expended and for the community to get a good value, though the city will no longer have TRL's partnership on paying rent at the end of the current agreement. He said he will keep the public informed about the status of several ideas, including extending the current rental lease 3-5 years while an alternative site is searched.
[Ed. Note: As Yelm Library Board Chair 2 years ago, I can report from then that Prairie Park owner Margaret Clapp was not interested in giving Yelm a cut on the current rental past the contract expiration in mid-2012, saying she wanted to lease to other tenants at a fair market rental rate. Now that the economy has tanked, tenants looking for space in Yelm are not plentiful. IMHO, look for a sweetheart deal for the city to extend their rental of a public library in a portion of the current space in Clapp's private building for 3-5 years, while the city says they're going to find a public-building alternative, kicking this football down the road for subsequent Council's, as has been done for the previous 8 years. City Council member John Thompson works for Prairie Park & Council member Mike McGowan works for Yelm's Timberland Library - a marriage made in heaven to insure even a slimmed-down library remains in Prairie Park, regardless of what other alternatives might be presented.]
The Mayor believes the Yelm economy is better-off than most saying this is not the biggest issue here, that the affects felt are national & statewide. He acknowledged there may be a struggle in getting grants from the state in the future like the Longmire bathrooms (flush toilets), as less dollars are out-there being pursued by more municipalities.
He reminded everyone to vote on the Regional Fire Authority issue on the ballot today & closed this section by saying the economy will get better & spoke of his support & encouraging everyone to "shop locally."
WATER, WATER, WATER
The largest challenge here is water, water, water.
Mayor Harding said folks have tried to use water as an issue to stop growth in the city and that has created challenges, namely this has put the city under the magnifying glass where city officials have to dot the i's & cross the t's.
[Ed. Note: This is VERY telling. To continue to blame others as being anti-growth is a diversion tactic to keep attention off of the fact that the city was challenged in-court to get them to follow the laws. A Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled for the city to do so. So then the Mayor's next comment admits the city was NOT dotting the i's & crossing the t's (saying the city has to "dot the i's & cross the t's" means they have not been doing so). That has nothing to do with anyone being anti-growth! That IS the city's own doing.]
Mr. Harding said that because of an increase in population, per capita water usage has actually decreased, even with a record water use. In 1994, the city pumped 674 acre feet per year (afy) of water and did not exceed that for 12 years until 2006, due to what he described as "our management of the system."
However, in 2009, he said we had to have a water rate increase. Council is constantly thinking of businesses & how this would affect you (Chamber members), hence a lower rate for commercial users, who overall, use less water than residential customers. An automatic rate increase was postponed, but we will have to OK this to continue to have more homes, more customers & increases in services here.
The mayor suggested all watch how they're using water.
We may face a water moratorium, as several folks have asked and are asking today for such. Harding said he received copies of e-mails going out statewide calling for a Yelm moratorium. He said we'll overcome this challenge, yet if a moratorium is put in place, the city will take an immediate hit of 2 million dollars in revenue losses: $1 million from lack of sewer/water hook-ups, $1 million from lack of fees.
"That would be a hardship for us," he said.
Mayor Harding said the city will be working with the Chamber of Commerce for off-premise signage and an electronic reader board here. Before he closed his talk to take questions, Harding said housing availability here is low, a good sign.
So, Harding said without water, the city's rally cry this year is "What can we do?"
Mayor Harding then took questions:
1. A comment acknowledging the cooperation to get Longmire Park done using reclaimed water.
Mayor Harding said, "We still have capacity in our system & will get this water thing solved in my 2nd term."
[Ed. Note: The reclaimed water line to Longmire Park cost $408,800 to add water, sewer and reuse water lines all have separating requirements down the same street, reported here in 2008 & here. That is over & above the $400,000 for the Park's flush toilets.]
2. Port of Olympia rep. wanted to work with city to help on the rail line to expand business here.
Mayor Harding said nothing works without water.
3. When is Yelm's clean-up day?
First part of May.
Mayor Harding closed his annual speech by saying that during President Obama's State of the Union message, the President was interrupted with applause and cheers many times and on so many silly things in a difficult audience. Harding then said, "I did not hear alot of applause here today." And up to that point, there was none. However, when the mayor then did get his applause, no one stood up. HMMM!
This writer noted many things missing from today's talk, compared to Mr. Harding's previous 4 State of the City sessions:
- Only 2 City Council members of the 7 showed up & while the mayor mentioned new Council member Tracey Wood by name, he was not in audience. Busy I guess, with work commitments.
- There was an obvious lack of passion & inspiration in Mayor Harding's tone today, contrasting with previous State's of the City. I know he has his challenges, both personally & professionally, as do we all, yet this was not the usually robust mayor that speaks so upbeat at these functions, in my view.
- Previously, Mayor Harding laid out his goals for the coming year via this annual talk. He did nothing of the kind today, except to say the city is facing some challenges. No projects (once phase 1 of the Yelm Loop & the Longmire flush toilets are completed this year) & no 2010 plans were put forth today.
What about the Mayor's planning for a Recreation/Community Center, his proposal mentioned last year at the State of the City talk?
Not a word...
- The focus today was reveling in the past. Four years ago, this Forum was a platform for the Mayor's vision for the next 4 years of his first term. While Harding said today he'd get the water & library issues solved in his 2nd term, he said nothing as to how or what he envisions is required to do that. Flagrantly & conspicuously absent, he provided no comment, direction or guidance on his plans, intentions or goals for this, the beginning of his 2nd term or about his future 4 years ahead. There was an opportunity today to use his accomplishments as a foundation to present a context for the future that was not taken.
- There were NO hard-hitting questions from Chamber members on anything, quite an embarrassment and from business owners that got a one-two kick in the gut in 2009 from a city water rate hike and B & O tax increase and told today more water rate increases were coming their way.
Where were the questions about the $470,000 lawsuit against the city, the recently surfaced revelations about the Thurston Highlands bankruptcy court decisions, the city seizing a private citizen's water rights or the status the amount of water the city pumped in 2009 vs. allocated acre feet by DOE?
Where was a question about the 1/4 of a million dollars in piling-up legal bills?
- According to this week's NVN about Harding's talk today, "He will discuss the city's budget and revenue and where the city is now."
Not one word on that subject either, except to say the economy here is good!
He told the NVN last week, “I think the state of the city itself is pretty good.”
That's not a very firm answer & required an in-depth report.
- Also, this quotes of his in last week's NVN:
“It’s real difficult for us to continue to invest city resources with this water situation,” Harding said.
Harding did not elaborate on any specifics of the water issue, other than saying what would happen if the city is slapped with a moratorium. He talked all around the issue and clearly laid the blame on others for what he described as the city's water challenges, with no analysis of those challenges.
Bottom Line: The fact that the mayor had to mention there was no applause during his talk spoke volumes, and this was from a friendly audience. As with all five State of the City Addresses now, Mayor Harding has never taken his address directly to the public who elected him to serve and the Greater Yelm Community who pay their share of fire, cemetery, schools & library taxes for those facilities in the City of Yelm. Amazing that the Mayor and/or several politicians just can't be up-front with their constituents. There were no usual acknowledgments of Council members or city staff either. Council member Don Miller was sitting right behind me & I thought atypical of Mr. Harding that Mr. Miller was not recognized nor Council member Thompson, also in attendance. The Mayor's demeanor seemed to be this talk was perfunctory.
This writer left deep in reflection on today's observations!
There was melancholy in the air about this talk today, hence the lack of applause, IMHO.
UPDATE, February 9, 2010: 9PM
At the Yelm City Council session tonight, Mayor Harding told the Council about his State of the City Address today. He did recognize this Council & previous city administrations for their efforts to bring us to where we are today with all of the completed projects, much to the city's benefit. He added that alot is going on behind the scenes most people don't know nor can ascertain from the little articles written, in the context of challenges of the library & water, adding he's been having meetings the last week about the library and with locals.
UPDATE, February 11, 2010, 3pm:
Even the NVN who annually puts this talk on the front-page, relegated this talk to page 3 in their Feb. 12th edition, with a front-page advance article last week heralding this address.