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Stowe addresses Bothell's economic challenges

"There's no avoiding the ... economic challenges of the day," Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said during his fifth annual State of the City speech to the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking to the chamber membership Jan. 14, the economy and Bothell's response to it were among the major topics of Stowe's talk.

Stowe also hit on what he felt were the chief accomplishments of the city's officials in the last year, focusing on the continued development of plans to transform Bothell's downtown.

In terms of riding out the current economic storm, Stowe said the city was able to balance its $204 million budget for 2009-2010 without raising any taxes while maintaining a commitment to significant capital improvements and preserving a $7.3 million cash reserve.

Later in the course of his speech, Stowe stated despite the tightness of the budget, the city added several positions in the areas of parks and recreation and administration, among a short list of others. He added because of economic uncertainties, those positions are slated for future review.

According to Stowe, a statewide study showed many Washington cities cut employees and a significant percentage raised taxes. He added cities now receive roughly half of the state funding sent their way in the past.

As Bothell moves forward, Stowe said a survey completed last year showed 75 percent of residents believe those moves are in the right direction. Further, 92 percent of those surveyed believe Bothell is a "good" or "excellent" place to live, while 86 percent indicated the city offers the right amount of municipal services.

In outlining Bothell's progress in the year just ended, as already noted, Stowe touched first on progress with the city's well-advertised plans to revamp its downtown. He added those plans should be firmed up further in the near future, possibly in the first quarter of 2009. The advance study that already has taken place, as well as what is still to come, should put Bothell in a good strategic position when the Puget Sound economy eventually rebounds, Stowe contended.

All in all, Stowe said he expects the downtown plan to generate some $670 million in investments over the next 25 years.

Touching on other areas of City Hall activity, Stowe said the administration and City Council are in the midst of reviewing annexation options that greatly could expand Bothell's boundaries either to the north or south. As he has in the past, Stowe emphasized any annexation won't take place until 2010 or early 2011. He said the delay is needed partly in order to ensure such endeavors as the downtown plan moves forward as anticipated.

Moving away from development and expansion, Stowe reported Bothell enjoyed the lowest crime rate of any city in the region and won recognition for its public outreach in the area of emergency preparedness.

Seemingly somewhat surprisingly, a question-and-answer session following Stowe's speech drew no takers whatsoever. One of those in the audience for the event, Deputy Mayor Sandy Guinn said this was the first time that happened following one of Stowe's annual presentations. She said she agreed with Stowe that despite the stumbling economy, Bothell is in a very good position.

While Stowe talked a lot about downtown development, one local arts leader expressed one bit of reservation over the plans. Marco Carrabba is the artistic director of the nonprofit Cameo/Carrabba Dance Theatre formerly located in downtown Bothell. He still is looking for a new location, but added his move from downtown had nothing to do with the redevelopment plans. Carrabba did express hope the downtown expansion ultimately doesn't chase out current, longtime businesses. He also added he had hoped to hear from Stowe more about the city's intentions for Bothell Landing, the shopping plaza the city purchased as part of the downtown redevelopment project.

Stowe did touch on that last subject very briefly, stating officials hope to put together a master plan for the Bothell Landing area.

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