Letter to the Editor: Shoreline Prop 1 is about the kind of community we want for our children

Monday, October 25, 2010

To the Editor:

For this election we must decide on an important measure -- Shoreline Proposition 1. The proposition funds basic services – no extra programs or frills. It would keep in place neighborhood police patrols and crime prevention programs, preservation of our parks, trails and playgrounds, and services such as the senior center, human services and youth programs.

If this measure were to fail, it would represent a noticeable step backwards for our vibrant community. I appreciate the wisdom of the Athenian Oath: “we will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” I hope we as a community can resonate with these words and continue to maintain our beautiful and diverse city.

Over the next six years, the City is facing a projected $15 million budget shortfall without the passage of Proposition 1. This represents a sizable yearly deficit over the annual operating budget of approximately $36 million. Such a deficit will require decisive and non-trivial cuts in services.

Many of us were motivated to vote yes earlier this year in the School District’s bond and operations and maintenance levies. We voted yes because we understood that our support was critical for future generations. Proposition 1 carries a similar weight.

Failure to pass Proposition 1 will set a negative trend in motion for our future. May we remember the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, which states, “In every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

I urge you to vote YES on Proposition 1 – this is about the kind of community we want to leave proudly behind for all of our children.

Todd Fiala
Shoreline

19 comments:

Anonymous,  October 25, 2010 at 7:49 PM  

It would have been nice if this letter writer had informed the public of the fact that his wife is the City of Shoreline Assistant City Manager, full disclosure is always appreciated when city staff have a vested interest in the passage of Prop 1.

Anonymous,  October 25, 2010 at 10:47 PM  

This is getting ridiculous. It sure looks like Prop 1 is just about giving city employees a raise. We need to focus on the laws of economics, not the laws of the Iroquois. Raising taxes during a recession...to give government employees a raise...is a bad idea.

I already voted No on Prop 1.

Todd Fiala,  October 26, 2010 at 6:48 AM  

I write my opinion on Prop 1 as a father of three children and a Shoreline resident. I speak for myself and for the kind of community in which I want to raise my family. When I write an opinion, I sign it with my name, and a focus on why I care what we leave our future generation - my three sons. My vote as a citizen and my opinion on the matter are independent of my spouse's form of employment. Should Prop 1 fail, the projected revenue shortfall as indicated in the post will need to be covered by significant cuts. That kind of deficit means a very tangible reduction of services to our citizens whether it be by closure of a pool or reduction of workforce.

Sheila Long,  October 26, 2010 at 8:28 AM  

Thanks, Todd, for this thoughtful letter. I moved here because it is a better city than most around here: we have one of the best school districts, clean streets, and low crime levels. I can't understand people's problem with most paying under $9 a month to keep our services at the current level. This is not about raises: it is about keeping police services and community resources (such as the pool).
To those who wish to comment and remain anonymous - that is your choice, but doesn't show much integrity.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 8:39 AM  

First of all, it's not JUST $9 a month. It's on top of the Bush tax cuts that the Democrats are letting expire, it's on top of the other taxes being pushed by Democrats this year, like the income tax that will undoubtedly be expanded to all the 'rich' people making over $10k a year in the very near future, ect. We don't live in a vacuum here. We have to consider ALL the tax increases being pushed on us. Maybe if the Democrats in Congress had extended the Bush tax cuts, this local increase wouldn't look so bad. But it's disingenuous to claim it's "only" $9 a month. How many OTHER tax increases are you supporting this year, Ms. Long?

Second of all, I remain anonymous for the same reason I don't put "Vote Republican" bumper stickers on my car. This is a liberal city and I don't want some 'tolerant' progressive bashing my windows out. I've lived in Seattle long enough to know better. If you don't like my anonymous comments, that's YOUR problem. I vote, and my vote is just as valid as yours, and I'm not going to open myself up to vicious left wing attacks just to satisfy your curiosity. Don't question my integrity, Ms. Long, until you've walked a mile in my shoes.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

Julie Underwood, Todd's wife, donated $450 to the Yes on Prop 1 political action committee, the first $200 on 7/1. Why does that $200 on 7/1 matter? Because the city council didn't even vote to place the issue on the ballot until 7/26.

The Assistant City Manager (Julie Underwood) and other senior city staff donated hundreds of dollars on 7/1. The employee policies and procedures for the city do not allow them to engage in political campaigning. Todd and Julie are listed as endorsers of Prop 1, you may live here, but there are established personnel policies that appear to be violated.

Todd doth protest too much (to paraphrase Shakespeare).

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

Mr Fiala,

Your comments carry less weight with me now that I know that your household would benefit from this proposed property tax increase. I've seen enough with the never ending Aurora beautification, Taj Mahal City Hall and the new and increasing City of Shoreline fees on all of my utility bills. King County is also angling for a tax increase in this election cycle. Enough. I'm getting no raise this year. I'm voting NO on Prop 1.

Todd Fiala,  October 26, 2010 at 9:35 AM  

The good news about a democracy is we can all express our opinions (whether they are expressed anonymously or not). I value that in our system.

From the anonymous camp here, I have heard "don't vote for it." That's a valid opinion, no less or no more than mine. What I haven't heard much is an indication of what cuts are being proposed by those who support a "No" vote on Proposition 1 in order to cover the projected shortfall. Perhaps some energy can be put there so we can actually discuss the issue at hand - a projected shortfall and what to do about it. If we vote yes, we cover the projected shortfall. If we vote no, we have significant budgetary cutting to do.

What cuts would anonymous commenters here propose making to balance the budget over the next 6 years? You might be able to convince me, but you would need to try. What specific cuts would you suggest making, what would you estimate their contribution to be over the next 6 years, and how does the bridge the gap of the projected shortfall?

Separately, I've heard some noise about salaries and raises. I haven't heard any citing of data that suggests Shoreline is paid out of conformance with market rates for their employees. Please feel free to cite a valid source of info if you believe the City of Shoreline is paying employees higher than market rates for their positions. I'm sure our citizens would appreciate seeing factual data on that matter if the topic will continue to be raised.

Thank you for your thoughts and energy. It is this kind of topic-focused communication that can help our citizens (all of us) understand the issues at hand and the reasons people are led to one position or another.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 10:07 AM  

And what would that valid source be Mr. Fiala?

Christine Gregoire, who has a larger budget and more responsibility, gets paid less than the City Manager of Shoreline.

In fact, I think Gregoire gets paid the same as Julie Underwood, the Assistant City Manager of Shoreline (who happens to be your wife) - there is something seriously wrong with the salary structure of Shoreline (and the small suburban cities) if they are paying staff that much money.

Never mind who is sitting as the Governor of the State of Washington right now, there is absolutely no reason to account for a city of 50,000 getting paid more than the Governor or the assistant city manager of same size city getting the same pay.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM  

@Sheila -

You have a lot of nerve to gripe about anonymous posters and integrity.

Just blew by the violations of the personnel policy, didn't you? Talk about integrity, you seem to have missed the big picture.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM  

I would start with a 20% reduction in the salaries of all city employees, to start with. Then I would eliminate a good number of those jobs permanently. Those are probably not the sort of cuts that city employees want to consider, though...they would MUCH rather cut services, wouldn't they?

One of two things needs to happen: Either the highly paid city employees need to find ways to be extremely efficient and make things work with the money they have...and justify all the money they are being paid...or we need to stop paying them so much. They can't be paid as much as the Governor and then do an average job of managing the budget. They either have to do a really outstanding job of managing the budget, or they need to not be paid so handsomely.

Simple as that. High pay means a high standard. Without one, you don't get the other.

So now...think VERY CAREFULLY before you ask ME what should be cut, Todd. Shouldn't you be asking your highly paid wife those questions? It's not MY job to manage the city's budget...it's the highly paid city staff's job. If you want ME to do that job...then what are we paying the staff for??? I'll be happy to do that job...but I'll start by firing everyone who SHOULD be doing that job.

Is that what you wanted to hear?

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 9:26 PM  

Let me begin by disclosing that I am a City of Shoreline employee, but am writing this on my own time and representing my personal views on the subject. So as not to appear like I influencing others with my position, I will do as the majority have done in this comments section, and remain anonymous.

Contrary to what Anonymous@ 9:02 and 10:22 has/have alleged, Section 4.04 of the City's Employee Handbook does not prohibit employees (or their spouses) from political activities. Instead, they are prohibited from participating in political activities on City time, using City resources, facilities, or uniforms, or in any official capacity or representation of the City. These policies were established consistent with RCW 42.17.130, and are taken seriously by City employees so as not to damage the trust of the public. Miss Underwood, as a City resident on her own time, is permitted to support any ballot measure or candidate she prefers, as is her husband.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions made about salaries and benefits for City employees, which have been characterized as excessive and the sole reason for Proposition 1, and prompted Anonymous@ 2:07's call for across the board 20% cuts in City salaries in addition to the elimination of numerous positions. In regards to the example raised in previous comments, people seem to be making apples to oranges comparisons of total compensation for our Assistant City Manager (including medical benefits and the monetary value of vacation time/annual leave) to the base salary (not including benefits or annual leave) for Governor Gregoire. Our salary schedule is available in the 2011 Budget Book (available on the City website), which shows the maximum salary range/step significantly lower than that of Governor Gregoire. I would encourage everyone to participate in the City Council’s Budget process, a very transparent process which has just begun and will be the focus of the Council’s agenda for the next several meetings.

If people are convinced that these salaries are still too high, I respect that opinion. However, I would equate the role of an Assistant City Manager for a city the size of Shoreline to that of a Vice President for a company with 144 employees. I am not arguing that this position should earn the equivalent of a private sector vice president, but use it as a comparison, and feel that having qualified employees in leadership positions (many with 25 plus years of management experience) allows the City to operate with a workforce much smaller than many cities of similar size. I believe that the City's past salary surveys have shown the salaries for these (and all City) positions to be near the median for the region, and that the competency of the City's employees allow it to operate so efficiently. As our string of clean audits from the State of Washington have shown, Shoreline is not Bell, California, or to a lesser extent, Lynnwood.

As far as compensation for other employees goes, I am happy to candidly discuss my salary. With a Master's degree and nine years of experience in my current field, my salary is just under $64,000 per year, which after several step increases is about $4,000 less than I was earning (with similar benefits) at a private company when I came to the City several years ago. I decided to come to Shoreline because I liked the area and the staff, heard great things about the city, and enjoy working in the public sector. I feel blessed to be working in such a great city, in a position I love, especially when considering the broader economic environment. I would like to think that City residents appreciate my efforts and the level of service I provide, and that a 20% cut in my salary and the permanent elimination of all step increases and cost of living increases (when the CPI shows inflation, which was not the case last year) is not the only solution to what is a fundamental issue of the annual increase in costs to provide City services far exceeding the 1% annual increase in property taxes that is allowed.

Anonymous,  October 26, 2010 at 9:28 PM  

In regards to benefits, the City provides a cafeteria-style plan of benefits to City employees, with a maximum monthly health benefit that is approximately half the dollar amount of what would be considered a "Cadillac Plan". Anything over that monthly cap is the responsibility of the employee to cover. It is a different system than what many Cities and businesses use, where the employee is responsible for a small deductible and specified percentage of their monthly premium, no matter the amount or how many dependents they have on their plan.

I believe that the City's attractive, yet fair, benefits policy is one of many reasons that the City is able to attract such qualified employees. Unfortunately, health care costs continue to increase by double digits. That being said, I understand the state of the economy, and that every penny counts. As such, the City Council will be taking a closer look at ways to reduce benefit costs, and I would again encourage residents to provide the City Council with their comments and opinions during the Budget process.

As mentioned above, City projections show that the City’s budget deficit will continue to get larger as the cost of City services continue to far exceed the 1% increase in property taxes allowed by state law. For a suburb that is primarily single family residential and largely built out, and is highly dependent on property tax revenue, this will continue to be a problem. Revenue from sales tax and permits should rebound as the economy improves, and the City Council has placed a high priority on economic development and expanding the City’s tax base, but these will not completely address this gap. Residents often ask why the City can’t simply use Aurora money to fund its operating budget, not realizing that this money is primarily grants that must be used on Aurora.

The question becomes, do Shoreline residents want to continue the level of service that they currently receive, and do they trust that the City is being responsible with their tax dollars? Based on a recent City survey, it seems like a large majority of residents seem to trust the City with their tax dollars, a fact employees take pride in. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of per capita services for Shoreline in 2011 is projected to be 10% less than the cost in 2000, even with the passage of Prop 1.

In 2009, Shoreline had 0.99 officers per 1,000 residents at a cost per capita of $178, while maintaining a crime rate (33.4) similar to other inner-ring suburbs with more officers per capita and much higher costs such as Issaquah (1.23 officers, $222, 31.7 crime rate), Kirkland (1.41, $304, 42.2), Edmonds (1.37, $204, 25.4), Mukilteo (1.39, $194, 25.8), Bothell (1.74, $320, 26.9), Woodinville (1.24, $219, 45.3), and Redmond (1.64, $230, 34.10), and less than half that of Lynnwood (2.27, $383, 68.5).

Comparing apples to apples, when excluding police/fire/utilities, Shoreline has 2.31 employees per 1,000 residents in 2010, which is significantly lower than the 4.09 for Kirkland, 5.23 for Redmond and 5.38 in Lynnwood. These figures help explain why Lynnwood is facing such extensive cuts in 2011, and why Redmond recently had to cut expenditures in its budget by 9%, even after an approved property tax levy lid lift in recent years that has resulted in a city levy rate of $1.57, which is higher than the $1.48 proposed in the City of Shoreline’s proposal.

I hope that I do not sound entitled or indifferent to the financial realities of Shoreline residents. I greatly appreciate their sacrifices, and encourage them to do a thorough analysis of Prop 1. Over the past several years, City residents have identified priorities such as acquiring open space, making park improvements, and funding school improvements, and approved bonds to fund these priorities. In thinking about Prop 1, I would encourage Shoreline residents to consider the efficient services that the City provides, and whether they would like to see those services continue into the future.

Anonymous,  October 27, 2010 at 6:49 PM  

The tax rate for the City of Shoreline for Fire tax (1.68) and City tax (1.38) is $3.06. Redmond does not have a Fire district, so they do more with less($1.57) and don't raise taxes. They also must provide state mandated response time for the fire response to their residents just as every city must.

Look it up for yourself on July 26th agenda from the City Council page 20. Redmond pays less total tax than Shoreline by a $100 dollars, and $324 less for Fire and City.

Redmond also did not tie the levys they passed in 2007 to the Consumer Price Index.

Another note:

Kenmore is estimating a surplus during a recession. They have not raised taxes in 7 years, and even lowered utility taxes because they understand their population as being more fixed income.

Sounds to me like other cities make it work, why can't we, is it the debt services to city hall? 2011 budget shows 1.3 million going to debt services(after the grants).

We need to identify that OUR SERVICES COME FIRST. PERIOD.

Anonymous,  October 27, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

Look at this table from a Seattle PI Story on public employee pay published in 2004:

http://www.seattlepi.com/widgets/infographics/topsalaries2004.asp?agency=shoreline

Julie's pay has increased by about $25,000 in 5 years, that is above the rate of inflation, people should take a look at that table and compare it to what senior staff have taken home; sure they haven't had a COLA for a year, but maybe they didn't deserve one.

As for your qualifications Julie, are you saying your master's degree makes you more qualified or just as qualified as someone who has a law degree and settled multi-state tobacco lawsuit while attorney general, so that is why you get the same pay rate? You know, her pay scale steps are merely theoretical, she is an elected official and you are appointed, the likelihood of the Governor rising up through all the step increases in her pay grade are slim to none.

But I have a question to ask you Julie, is it appropriate for the Assistant City Manager to show up at a "Sex & the City" event at Third Place Books and be portrayed in the following way:

"Most, like Jackie Byrd, 33, of Kirkland, said they're a Carrie, but Julie Modrzejewski, sitting next to her, said she was a Charlotte (she sort of looked like one). Regardless, Modrzejewski, 34, said what appealed to her most about Bushnell's work was her "ability to articulate what women feel.""

http://www.seattlepi.com/books/242574_candace29.html

If you think you are an executive, then I expect you to start comporting yourself as one.

Anonymous,  October 27, 2010 at 10:51 PM  

Wow, this seems to have gotten pretty personal. Between our local issues and the constant barrage of attack ads for federal and state elections, I can't wait for this election season to be over.

It seemed pretty clear to me that it was not Julie Underwood that posted the comment from last night (the employee noted his/her much lower salary), so I'm not sure why the previous commenter seems so intent on attacking her. If you think she is overpaid, fine, but to be pulling five year old articles and equating her affection for a book/television series with a lack of class or professionalism is pretty unconscionable. I think you'd fit in better at a Rand Paul rally than here in Shoreline; I hear that a position might have just opened up.

That being said, I do agree with the commenter before that (the anonymous one that actually contributed some facts, with links, instead of personal attacks) in regards to Redmond not being a good comparison for Shoreline. Redmond is a much older and established city, with its own utilities and public services, a huge multinational corporation headquartered there, and about $15 million more per year in sales tax revenue. The median home value is also about 33% higher. It is precisely these reasons that the City can afford to have a property tax levy rate much lower than what we have here in Shoreline.

Kenmore is a much better comparison, as although much smaller in population, it has similar demographics and sales tax revenue per capita, and median home values closer to Shoreline's (although still more than 10% higher). Looking at their city levy rate in the link provide above (which does not include their fire district), it is $1.44, which would be similar to what the city is proposing. And having several friends that live there, and given how highly we rank in Seattle-area surveys, I would say that the services we are offered beat Kenmore hands down.

The reason their total tax rate is significantly lower than ours is that their Fire District and School District levies are much lower. I don't think it's fair to blame the City for that.

So, the way I see it, is do people want, or think we deserve, significantly less services than Redmond because they have a much large sales tax and employee base (something I hope the city can address and begin to change in both the near future and the long run) and higher home values. Or would fellow residents be comfortable with a levy rate similar to that of a more comparable city like Kenmore, and receive arguably better services for our tax dollars.

I am not going to tell anyone how to vote. I just think it is important to be well informed and understand how different cities in the region work and fund their budgets (as mentioned by the employee last night, as a low density suburb, we are definitely highly dependent on property taxes). It is my opinion that even with the proposed levy lid lift, we would still be getting a pretty good return on investment.

Anonymous,  October 29, 2010 at 4:52 PM  

WOW ... I keep reading and reading the comments and what makes me sick is to see that the people against proposition 1 feel the need to attack the people that are for it. We all have different believes and fight for what we believe regardless of who we work for. Employees are not allowed to campaign during working hours but nothing says that they cannot campaign for what they believe on their own time.
Actually, what a great bunch of loyal employees you have that even though COLA was 0% in 2010 and it will be 0% in 2011 they still believe in the City and are fighting for it.
And what is the point of all the personal comments? Why waste your time on them? Do you really believe that Ms. Julie Modrzejewski’s comment about a movie was inappropriate? Really? I personally agree with Julie.
I guess, from your point of view, everybody that read the book or watched the movie has a little of a dirty mind therefore is not fit to work for the City you choose to live in … after all is Sex in the City. I am sure you’ve seen the movie!
The only thing that comes to my mind is a question to the people haters …. Is that all you have? Do you think you’ll win the elections by attacking people? If that is the case ... November 2nd will be a sad day in Shoreline history but if it passes, maybe you should sit at home and do some soul searching because somewhere in September or October your hate took over and you lost the point you were trying make by attacking people and became someone that I am sure you are not even happy with.
PEACE!

Anonymous,  October 29, 2010 at 6:10 PM  

Anon 4:52, No, that's not all we have. Feel free to comment on any one of these letters:

http://www.shorelineareanews.com/2010/10/letter-to-editor-why-i-voted-against.html

http://www.shorelineareanews.com/2010/10/letter-to-editor-math-doesnt-match.html

http://www.shorelineareanews.com/2010/10/letter-to-editor-were-running-out-of.html

Particularly the second link. I'd like to hear what the Yes on Prop 1 people have to say about that one. So far, they've avoided it like the plague.

All the Yes people have are threats and fear. I haven't heard a logic-based argument from the Yes people yet. All I've heard is emotional pleas based on fear. Maybe you'll be different. Give it a shot.

Anonymous,  October 31, 2010 at 12:55 AM  

No response? I guess you don't have a point to make.

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