Parting words from retiring LFP councilmember Mark Phillips

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Mark Phillips photo courtesy
City of Lake Forest Park
Mark Phillips has retired from the Lake Forest Park City Council after serving from January 2014 to December 2021.

His parting words for the community:

I’m proud of what Lake Forest Park accomplished over the last eight years, especially the acquisition of two new park properties, the expansion of a third park and the construction of three new culverts which eliminated periodic flooding of the roadways around Town Center. 

Although it will take time, the lakefront property promises to be a great resource, fulfilling long-standing desires for public lake access and more active recreational opportunities. The majority of the funding for all those improvements came from federal, state and county grants, along with public donations for one of the parks. 

I’m also pleased that the city is in a stronger fiscal position now than eight years ago with increases in required year-end fund balances and the creation of a new investment opportunity fund which was helpful in the lakefront purchase. This work was led by the council’s Budget and Finance Committee chaired by Councilmember Resha, and by two knowledgeable finance directors.

Disappointments? Yes, a couple. After over two years of hard, detailed work in conjunction with our Planning Commission to strengthen our development standards in anticipation of Town Center redevelopment and Sound Transit’s plan for a parking structure at the mall, neither of those have moved forward. 

The code changes we enacted reflect the wishes of our residents for the mall, but apparently mall owners find them too restrictive, and Sound Transit abruptly announced an indefinite delay in proceeding with the parking structure. I also regret that we were unable to reach an agreement with the Lake Forest Park Water District to complete the McKinnon Creek Trail, creating a direct pedestrian pathway between Horizon View and the Town Center.

One characteristic of Lake Forest Park that is important for understanding our civic life, and which any elected official comes to know well, is that we are almost exclusively residential. This didn’t happen by chance. It was the explicit vision of our founders over 100 years ago to create a residential oasis free of commerce. That direction was reinforced in 1961 when residents voted to formally incorporate the city as a way to control and limit encroaching commercial activity. The fact that the city remains largely residential can be seen as both a blessing and a curse.

Being primarily residential and with many larger-size lots, we are able to coexist with a proliferation of large trees, which along with our streams and steep ravines, creates a wonderful natural setting, much desired by weary inhabitants of an intensely urban region. Recognizing a good thing when we see it, we have embraced our natural environment and worked hard over the years to maintain it. Every few years, for example, we feel the need to review and strengthen our tree protection ordinance, including one major update during my time on the council.

Our residential nature, however, presents a major challenge: we are much more dependent on property taxes than many other cities. In my experience, people in Lake Forest Park are very generous, freely contributing volunteer hours and money to any number of social and civic purposes. However, when it comes to increasing property taxes, many residents tend to draw the line.

During my 30 years here, the average annual increase in the city’s portion of property taxes has been less than one percent, while the costs of providing services have consistently risen more than that. One fact that stood out for me during the lead up to the recent failed Prop 1, was that the median-valued home in LFP in 2021 ($624,000) paid $610 into the city coffers. I find that amount surprisingly low, especially given the generally high regard people have for our city services – police, public works, etc.

So, there is no fat in the city’s budget. We have entire departments that consist of only a couple of people. This limits what we can do ourselves and makes us the darling of the consulting companies. It also means we often depend on the largesse of others to accomplish our goals. Shoreline contributes much more to the Senior Center than we do, yet we are afforded full use of its services. Mountlake Terrace generously handles the administrative functions of the interlocal agreement through which we are working together to improve the Lake Ballinger/McAleer Creek watershed. With extremely limited resources, we are rarely the leader among the cities in our region.

LFP residents divide along these lines. Some feel this is a perfectly fine state of affairs – it’s good, lean government and anything we don’t have is available somewhere else. Let’s not try to be something we’re not. Others feel our level of fiscal austerity means missed opportunities for amenities and improvements that many people want. We shouldn’t always be dependent on the vagaries of grant funding to make those things happen.

This community conversation – about the kind of city we want to be – is not new. We have been engaged in it throughout our history, and elected officials and citizens will undoubtedly continue to sort it out far into the future. 

Lest there be any doubt, I am very optimistic about that future. We have a strong administration led by a mayor whose enthusiasm is contagious, along with dedicated and skilled staff members. We have four experienced councilmembers, whose collegiality and leadership often carried me during the last eight years, who are being joined by three very capable new ones. And we have residents who truly care about our city and are willing to engage in the civic process.



3 comments:

Patrick Schrote,  January 5, 2022 at 11:21 AM  

Thanks for putting in the effort and the thought necessary to add to the quality of life we enjoy in Lake Forest Park. As you mentioned, these things (quality of life issues) do not happen by accident, they are part of a vision, a vision that you recognized and worked to improve and sustain. Your contribution is appreciated.

Pat and Mary Ann Schrote

billyking January 5, 2022 at 12:32 PM  

Well written take on LFP life today. Im going to send to friends who want to know what this suburban oasis is all about.

Luanne Brown February 1, 2022 at 1:21 PM  

Thank you for your long service to our community, Mark. We are lucky to have you and Sarah, who also works hard for us, as members of our community.

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