I just returned from the Yelm City Council Public Hearing for the Local Improvement District (LID) Proposal.
The LID (Local Improvement District) is to provide funding for access roads and road imrpovements to the Tahoma Terra & Thurston Highland complexes. While the developers would fund what is stated as 60-65% of the project, the balance would be raised through a tax assessment of properties contiguous to the roads under the premise their property values would increase, as well. Many property owners at tonight’s meeting were upset because they thought the developers had agreed to build access roads and Yelm Ave. West improvements themselves when the Thurston Highlands development was proposed to the City. Many expressed that they felt betrayed that the city would consider passing on 35-40% of the funding through an LID to local property owners, when they had understood the developers had already agreed to pay for road improvements as part of the development’s application.
This meeting filled Council Chambers.
Comments were opened by the Mayor at 7:37pm, closed at 8:54pm
The public comments fell into two camps:
Corporate interests vs. individual property owners
Giving testimony on the corporate interests’ side were representatives that were asked by Mayor Harding to testify first and in order as follows Thurston Highlands, Yelm Community Schools (Superintendent Al Burke), Thurston County Economic Development President Mike Edwards (see below) who reminded the audience that his ancestors settled Yelm over 150 years ago, and the Twin County Credit Union’s rep., all who stated these improvements will help Yelm with managed growth by packaging all of the improvements together.
local property owners, all strongly opposed to the LID, stating that this project shifts too much of the expense for road upgrades to the local property owners. Many property owners said they wish no improvements to their frontage lots, but would have no choice if passed. One noted property owner voicing an eloquent statement opposed to the LID was Darlene Baker, sister-in-law to Yelm Councilman Joe Baker and co-owner with her husband Virgil of Sunrise Homes. Another citizen, one of our sweet seniors Gail Cane addressed the Council with information that in her research via the interent, learned an L. I. D. is nothing more than a wholesale transfer of funding local road projects from developers and towns to local citizens via a tax assessment. Council person Bob Isom interrupted Ms. Cane requesting the link and she replied that her limited time before Council would not be taken up addressing their questions – “no,” he could not interrupt her. That drew applause. This writer contacted Ms. Cane for the link and she told me LIDs are the same thing as Tax Increment Financing
Please read Ms. Cane’s discovery on the link highlighted above.
Mayor Harding stated, It makes much more sense to do this as one project than several.
The citys rep. Jim Gibson stated this LID would cost $19 million if done in separate sections, yet will cost $8.8 million done collectively.
Alan Burke said it would save the schools $500,000 [yeah, yet puts 35-40% of the burden onto the local neighbors; upgrades which around the Yelm High School had been previously agreed to be made by Yelm Schools as part of the Yelm High School expansion and had nothing to do with Tahoma Terra & Thurston Highlands developers’ plans. So, Mr. Gibson is saying take all of the proposed upgrades to Yelm Ave. West and do them as one project and save money. That’s fine, just not via an LID which would transfer the burden of funding onto road-contiguous owners ].
Legal counsel for the City stated that interested parties have 30 days to write letters to the City Council on this subject. She continued that although public comments are recorded, a written letter to City Hall will make a difference. The city’s Legal Counsel said property owners can defer payment of the assessment, however there would be interest incurred which would have to be paid upon the sale of any property. One man stood and said he was on a limited income and the assessment plus interest would force him to lose his home.
Steve Klein (this writer) pointed out that within 5 years the city would have to come back and rip out all of the improvements in this LID as the city will have to 5 lane Yelm Ave. West, that this already happened with 5 Corners when that intersection had to be widened 18 months after it was upgraded. Mr. Klein pointed out to the audience that the FORS were all corporate interests and the AGAINSTS were “Yelm’s Little People”, the local home owners and asked everyone to notice that fact. Jim Gibson replied that with the Loop built, Yelm Ave. West should handle the traffic just fine with three lanes. Klein reminded him that Rep. Tom Campbell sat in that very same chair a few weeks earlier stating the Loop funding was such that construction would not begin prior to 2011 with opening in 2016 and asked about Yelm Ave. West traffic until then. Mayor Harding jumped in and said the city has to start somewhere and how do we handle the traffic passing through town. Mr Klein stated that a center turn lane in the afternoons from the west into town or east out of town will not help the flow, that there is no increase in actual road capacity and school traffic is gone by 3pm, and most of the traffic is between 7-8am & 3-6pm. Mr. Klein suggested the council ride in traffic from the Red Wind Casino to Yelm about 5pm on Thursday or Friday. Klein noted that a center turn lane, lights and improvements on Yelm Ave. East has done little to ease the traffic congestion as traffic backs up for blocks at 5 Corners every afternoon now. Then, Mr. Harding bristled and said he has lived here all of his life, he knows about the traffic. Mr. Klein was about to offer some suggestions (like one-way streets mentioned by him in January and by a local resident tonight), when Councilwoman Fetterly cut him off and said she wanted to hear no arguments.
Mike Edwards then spoke again reminding everyone that the Federal funding for the Loop would not be present if local municipalities do not handle their local traffic properly themselves and this LID assists Yelm in that venture.
Then Mr. Harding stated that although he does not vote, he strongly supports the LID and encourages the council to take action now and vote for approval. [Ed. Note: This is the same man that stood so firmly behind the flag of Washingtons Appearance of Fairness Doctrine last year during the Wal-Mart debate as Mayor Pro-Tem. His definite stand for this LID against his own constituents and attempt at swaying the City Council was noted in stark contrast to his behavior when a corporate entity like Wal-Mart was before the Council here last year and he so vigorously upheld Wal-Marts rights for fair and unbiased treatment].
Mr. Isom interrupted Mr. Harding and immediately motioned to table the action on the LID until the next City Council Meeting and asked the City Staff for some more numbers to be presented to Council. Mr. Baker seconded the motion. It carried.
The public left this meeting shaking their heads in disgust.
As an aside,
Mike Edwards is President & Chief Executive Officer of Thurston First Bank of Olympia
and served as the supervisor of banking for the State of Washington and as an advisor to Chairman Alan Greenspan and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington D.C. He also served as Chairman of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (a national organization of state banking supervisors) in Washington D.C. Mike has served as president of three community banks in Washington State: Prairie Security Bank in Yelm, which he started, Hood Canal State Bank and First Community Bank. Mike is president of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County and has served on the board for the last 15 years. [Ed. Note: Prairie Security Bank was acquired by the former First Community Bank now known as Venture Bank.]