Mill Creek City Council Meeting, 6/25/2019

“In space travel,” repeated Slartibartfast, “all the numbers are awful.”
–Douglas Adams, “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

An awful lot of numbers were proffered this meeting regarding two major decisions before the Council: How much money should we borrow through our bond ordinance?; What technology will we use to make necessary upgrades to City servers? First, however, Sarah Sidman, the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Communications from the ArtsFund organization, presented the results of a recent study on the social impacts of the arts.

ArtsFund is a non-profit organization dedicated to support of the arts in the Puget Sound region. Having seen the presentation in Seattle, John (Councilmember) and Lisa Steckler arranged to bring it to Mill Creek. A healthy crowd turned up specifically to listen to the PowerPoint presentation.

An interesting paradox is that a large majority of people feel that art has a big impact on them, but very few believe that it similarly influences the community. However, research shows that art programs improve education outcomes, contribute to well-being, and enrich the vitality of communities. This is on top of the financial benefits from tapping into a 2.4 billion dollar segment of Washington’s economy.

These are some of the many reasons I support Councilperson Steckler’s vision of building a Performing Arts Center in Mill Creek, as part of the development of the city-owned Dobson-Remillard-Cook Properties. A performance space for our students, dance, theatrical and musical groups is one of the very few important things that Mill Creek lacks. A venue not just for our citizens, but that will bring in outside events, can be a big contributor to our local tourism income. I’m looking forward to explorations of funding and partnerships that can make this possible within our means.

Speaking of living within our means, 3.3 million dollars in debt was approved unanimously by the five Councilmembers in attendance. (Mayor Pruitt and Mike Todd were on City business at a conference.) This was a follow-up to the conversation that happened on June 11th, regarding financing repairs to the surface water pipes. At that time, the idea was floated of increasing the bond issue from 2.8 million, because of the interest rate available.

This was the right decision, I believe, but I also have concerns. If a friend or family member said, “I needed $28,000, but I took out $33,000 because it was cheap money,” that would worry me! It would worry me more if I was going to be the one they collected funds from to pay the loan off. Indeed, surface water fees will go up more in a few years than they would have otherwise. It’s also unfortunate that the decision had to be made while the Financial Director, Peggy Lauerman, wasn’t present to give an opinion on the decision.

The two reasons in support of the increased funds are long-term value and the anticipation of costs coming in over budget. Government finances aren’t like individuals’ decisions, they’re more like businesses with mandatory customers. As such, they can, and must, make decisions based on long-term value, including seizing opportunities as they present themselves. Furthermore, it is completely rational to believe that we many genuinely need the money to do what needs to be done. Obviously, if that happens our terms will be much better if we don’t deal with the problem on an emergency basis. As long as our ambitions don’t expand to unnecessarily take up the money we have, the decision should have a neutral to positive impact on our finances.

Next up, server infrastructure. As action was delayed on this topic to give Pruitt and Todd the opportunity to weigh in on July 2, I’m also going to wait. Meanwhile, you can read the staff summary here.

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