The Kenmore Reporter newspaper conducted a Q&A with all the city council candidates for a story that ran in the newspaper published July 5. Here is the Q&A with Patrick O’Brien in its entirety:
What do you see as the top three issues facing the city of Kenmore?
1. Balance the city budget with no new taxes.
Bring stability and long-term transparent control over the excessive and ever-increasing costs of running City Hall’s daily operations. The council has taken no responsibility and has in fact vehemently denied the factual growth in the new City Hall operating costs.
Two years ago the council denied any need to increase taxes, yet last year they increased taxes on our car tabs and on our water and sewer bills. These taxes amount to a 17 percent increase in our city property taxes.
The council members claim they needed to increase taxes due to a reduction in revenue since 2007. However, since 2007 annual revenue from recurring operations has increased from $9.4 million to $9.5 million.
During the same time, operating expenses have increased 21 percent from $8.7 million to $10.6 million annually. Since 2007, salary and benefits have increased 83 percent from $1.6 million to $3 million a year. These increased expenses are driving the current and guaranteed future tax increases.
We have to face this reality, reasonably control costs and develop a healthy balance in spending between operations and deserved local public improvements.
The council deflects attention away from this critical economic responsibility by focusing public attention on the state funding for the Bothell Way/State Route 522 improvements. To date, the vast majority of that funding ($48 million) came prior to 2006 when the current council running for re-election took office. The state is responsible for paying for SR-522 improvements, and we should not be misled about our own responsibilities and the substantial loss of available resources to pay for our needed local public improvements.
2. Develop an integrated plan for the development of the downtown core and waterfront after openly and transparently resolving the outstanding environmental issues.
3. Improve council decision-making through increased transparency and a commitment to a healthy and respectful deliberative process.
Currently, there is single-mindedness on the council, with repeated instances of back-room politics where critical issues and supporting documentation are left off the agenda and are not available for public knowledge or consumption. These issues consistently include significant hidden costs to taxpayers and lack of consistency.
Some examples of these hidden costs and lack of consistency include the abandonment and buyout of the Kenmore Village deal with Urban Partners that cost taxpayers $700,000 and the chance for a unified development, or the $750,000 we had to pay the SR 522 contractor for a “three week work stoppage” due to city management’s inability to resolve a design flaw that created a conflict with the Northshore Utility District.
Also at the outset of this council’s reign, just 11 days after selling the Kenmore Village property for $25.60 a square foot in July of 2007, the council paid $44 a square foot ($3.1 million) for the new City Hall’s land, just across the street. At the time, the council refused to get an appraisal to review the difference in sales price of $25.60 versus the purchase price of $44 in similar properties.
We need to review the reasons for these past poor performances and put in place new guidelines for issuing contracts that rely on input from talented Kenmore citizens with experience in those areas.
How do you feel the city handled the acquisition and sale of the Kenmore Village property and what would you have done differently?
Originally, the city was supposed to consolidate the Kenmore Village properties to attract a quality developer and anchor tenant at a scale that would stimulate additional outside investment in downtown Kenmore.
In 2012 the council members took a new position, stating they now did not want to “attempt to force an artificial market” in the sale of Kenmore Village. Instead, the council chose to breakup the property and sell it in pieces as government surplus. This was another error in the long series of downtown development contractual and fiscal mistakes. The city should at least have tried to keep the property together and sell it to one developer.
After 10 years of investing more than $6 million in the old shopping center property, we have now agreed to sell it for $3 million, or half of what we paid.
The rental income (which got as high as $534,000 a year in 2008) and the other developer proceeds on sale were never enough to cover the operating expenses, carrying costs, consulting fees and buy-out costs associated with the sale. A good investment should double over 10 years; we lost half.
The reality is that the original purchase and sale of Kenmore Village was unnecessarily dragged out and used primarily as a political tool to support the construction of the City Hall that was clearly beyond the need and affordability level of our local Kenmore community.
If economic development was our primary concern, the property would have been sold in 2005-2006, well before the recession when quality investors and solid anchor tenants were plentiful.
The original economic strategy of stimulating economic development by attracting additional outside investors had merit. When Kenmore Village was first sold in 2007, another developer (Goldfarb & Associates) was offering neighboring Kenmore Village properties as much as $78 to $113 a square foot to buy their properties.
The council privately decided to give-up on this effort and recently agreed to sell 75 percent of the shopping center property to the Benaroya group for $11.41 a square foot with little or no restrictions on timing, quality of development or re-sale of the property.
My preference would have been to flip the property to a quality investor as soon as possible after acquisition 10 years ago, as obviously the council did not have expertise in successful development. When the original developer failed to perform, I would not have given him an extension. That is not how property development is negotiated.
From 2008–2010, the city gave Urban Partners “nine amendments” to the development agreement, each time extending their performance and escrow requirements.
The developer did not deliver on what was originally promised and the council paid hundreds of thousands in additional legal and consulting fees to grant extension after extension. In the end, it cost Kenmore taxpayers $700,000 in a direct cash buy-out to Urban Partners when we were actually entitled to keep $429,000 in escrow payments and improvements due to the developer’s failure to perform.
In your opinion, what is the best way to spur growth in the city and build a sense of community between businesses and the local government?
Kenmore needs better pedestrian access to cross SR-522 and for cars, safe ingress and egress to 522. We must be careful with the redevelopment set to take place, that it is not isolated from a larger picture of city planning.
New businesses and established businesses are good for Kenmore, so let’s revoke the new city tax on businesses. Unlike elected officials, city staff members have a vested interest to increase taxes and are not held accountable by either a vote of the people or by term limits when they make grievous errors in judgment. It is important for the council to have hire and fire ability to ensure that city staff works for and with the public. To ensure this process is not highly politicized, a two-thirds council vote could be instituted to dismiss staff.
If you have an issue that is important to you please tell our readers about it and what you would like to do about it as a council member?
The major issue is how the city conducts its business; it is not transparent and would not hold up to public scrutiny if it were.
The city should never have been in the development business and professionals repeatedly stated this and were not well received. Questioning city officials is a citizen’s right and should not be seen as improper. The council has a remarkable record of unanimous voting with very little public discussion; this indicates substantive matters are decided behind closed doors.
Discussion that leads to voting needs to be public, it is not enough that matters are merely voted yes or no in public. Lack of discussion keeps the public in the dark and I will work to remedy that.
What is your campaign website address for residents to learn more about you?
Facebook: Patrick O’Brien; or email Patrickpatrican@outlook.com