On Feb. 19, the Bothell-Kenmore Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon at the Evergreen Church Auditorium in commemoration of the Bothell city manager’s annual state of the city address.
Community Transit and the MainStreet Property Group also gave updates at the gathering; the Northshore Schools Foundation additionally announced Shaena Ramos as its student of the month.
Bothell city manager Jennifer Phillips’s address, which emphasized the city’s accomplishments in 2019 and what it’s looking to accomplish in 2020, was bookended by Mayor Liam Olsen. He previewed her speech by introducing some of the city council’s main focus areas, which include refined strategies for affordable housing, public safety and city-wide technologies; more creation of community connections and fiscal responsibility and sustainability measures.
“This is really what guides our work,” Phillips said of council’s goals following Olsen’s words. “This is who we are and how we move forward as a city…It’s really important that we have these so we know what we’re doing for the community.”
Regarding community connections, Phillips noted that the city is increasing open house opportunities and online surveys to get more engagement. For example, last year, Bothell had its first-ever Pride Month proclamation. In addition, youth members are now allowed to serve on a couple of city advisory boards.
“We want to make sure that we have a good process and people feel welcome and they can be a part of our community,” Phillips said.
Phillips, concerning community health, touched on the recent implementation of a navigator program, the continued use of human services grants, the support of the Snohomish County Health District and the expansion of Bothell’s emergency preparedness program. She also talked about the addition of improvements made possible by a recently passed public safety levy and bond that have resulted in the hiring of 21 out of 27 new positions, which includes four firefighters, 12 police officers and others.
“That was a big commitment that we made to the council and the community,” Phillips said, who also noted that the city, through levy funds, is in the process of rebuilding two local fire stations.
Expanding on public safety, Phillips brought up that four walkway projects, as part of the Safe Streets & Sidewalks levy, are underway. She also said the city has joined King County fire training, hired a new municipal court judge and adopted a comprehensive emergency management plan.
The Bothell Police Department has also been re-accredited.
“Our police department worked like crazy to be accredited as a police department…The amount of work and effort and the caliber of a police department that you have to have to get this accreditation is really an impressively high bar,” Phillips said. “I am so proud. Bothell PD was one of the things that attracted me to come to Bothell to be the city manager and they have continued to exceed my expectations.”
Economic development and the environment
Economic development was also a significant part of Phillips’s address. She brought up that the newly revamped Bothell tourism website has garnered three national awards, and that work is continuing on downtown property cleanup, Sound Transit 3 projects and the Canyon Park Subarea plan. Phillips invoked further development on the currently untouched active use area of the former Wayne Golf Course, which Bothell is looking to have soon function as an economic driver and get more input on from the community.
Affordable housing, similarly to other cities in the greater Seattle area, is a big area of focus for the city. Phillips noted that Bothell is working on a multi-family tax exemption program and that the city has collaborated with a local affordable housing developer for a downtown project, for example. Bothell has also participated in the Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Task Force.
“We’re really trying to make some strides,” Phillips said.
The city manager also stressed the work of Bothell’s parks and recreation department, highlighting the recent finalization of the parks, recreation and open space plan and the success of last year’s pop-up dog park.
Environmentally, Phillips said, Bothell is being cognizant by eliminating (unless it’s mandated) the use of pesticides and herbicides in all parks, and by implementing in April an ordinance that bans single-use carry-out plastic bags from being used by commercial retailers. She also said that Bothell has been working to clean up environmental contamination from downtown businesses.
“It’s not the city’s fault, but we took on the responsibility,” Phillips said of the downtown cleanup efforts. “We’re committed to that because it’s the right thing to do for the environment.”
Although Phillips’s address was largely taken up by gains recently made by the city, toward the end of her speech she brought up some of the challenges Bothell is facing, specifically concerning finances.
While some monetary positives were noted — such as the issuing of $25.5 million in bonds for fire station reconstruction and an upgraded bond rating — Phillips highlighted that in Bothell, expenditure growth is continuing to outpace revenue.
“We’re at that point that we do have a structural deficit,” Phillips said, adding that there is the potential for a recession. “In local government, we have to make sure that we pay attention to that and that we prepare for that.”
She added, “We also have to make sure that we have enough money to replace the assets that we have. We haven’t done a good job in the past of saving for those things. And so we need to work with the council in 2020 to develop the ‘21-’22 budget, and we’re going to have to make some tough choices. But the important thing is we’re going to do it together. We’re going to look at what the community needs, we’re going to talk to the community and we’re going to make decisions that we hope will support the community and help us continue to grow and prosper in Bothell because we’ve got to do so much.”
Phillips brought up that to combat financial problems, the city is looking to assess options that would realign expenditures with resources, increase revenues with one-time resources and look at new opportunities to increase revenues. Putting a spotlight on long-term financial sustainability is a major point of emphasis.
“If we just focus on this year, we focus on next year, we’re not doing the next generation and the next group of businesses and employees and residents and visitors to our community justice,” Phillips said. “We have to look at the long term, because these are long-term solutions.”
Olsen followed Phillips by expanding on budgeting, events, transportation and more.
The next state of the city address backed by the chamber is focused on Kenmore, and will be March 11.
This article has been updated to clarify which levy positions were filled.