Mill Creek’s Economic Development Committee presented their ideas for attracting businesses to Mill Creek and promoting Mill Creek’s economy to the Mill Creek City Council at the city council's regular September 23rd meeting.
The Economic Development Committee encouraged the City Council, “to take some risks in the near term to address the coming revenue shortfall. It is evident that fiscal management alone will not be enough to shore up the deficit…”
“So it is the opinion of the committee that the City must place a priority on revenue generation. This would include not only pursuing options in the form of utility taxes, fees and permits, but more importantly aggressive business development.”
Mill Creek has what Finance Director Landy Manuel calls a structural budget deficit problem. He projects that without significant changes, the city’s $6.6 million general fund reserve will be gone by about 2019 because the cost for services is greater than the revenue being taken in.
Budget cuts are very difficult to make since the city has been fiscally prudent and almost 67% of the City’s expenditures in 2013-2014 are for public safety such as police services, fire services, and emergency medical services. As well, Mill Creek’s ageing infrastructure is getting to the point where maintenance costs are increasing.
The city council spent quite a bit of time brainstorming ways to increase economic development and the revenue associated with it at their February 22, 2014, legislative retreat.
One of the ideas they came up with was to gather together an independent group of business owners, property owners, and other interested residents who could use their experience and expertise to come up with economic development ideas.
Mayor Pam Pruitt, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Harmsworth, and Councilmember Brian Holtzclaw selected the 15 members of the Economic Development Committee by reviewing and discussing the 27 letters of interest received from the Mill Creek community.
The Mill Creek City Council unanimously approved the selection of the following Economic Development Committee members at their May 27th regular meeting:
- Randy Blair, Senior Planner, WHPacific and Mill Creek resident.
- Harpreet Cheema – Manager, Primera Blue Cross and Mill Creek resident.
- Jack Dinniene – Commercial Real Estate Appraiser and Mill Creek resident.
- Chuck Dominguez – Manager, Masters Construction Services.
- James Erlewine – Commercial Banker, Peoples Bank and Mill Creek resident.
- Donna Gardner – Mill Creek resident.
- Kevin Giboney – Principal, Just2Dads of Allstate Insurance and President, Mill Creek Business Association.
- Steven Lindle – Mill Creek resident.
- John Nelson – Vice President, Banner Bank and Mill Creek resident.
- Tim Panos – Mill Creek commercial property owner.
- Bill Schatz – Former Bothell Mayor and Mill Creek resident.
- Kim Stevens – Store Director, Mill Creek Albertsons and Mill Creek resident.
- Tom Stewart – Manager, Huntron and Mill Creek resident.
- Scott Turner – Graduate student and Mill Creek resident.
- Bob Vick – Senior Vice President, Sundquist Homes.
Harmsworth was the only city councilmember to attend the committee’s first meeting on June 9th. He encouraged the committee to, “think outside the box” and “find a way to yes.”
The Economic Development Committee met six times over the summer to brainstorm ideas and discuss the City’s options. Community Development Director Tom Rogers and Planning Specialist Sherrie Ringstad helped facilitate and document the meetings.
At the city council’s regular September 23rd meeting three spokespersons from the committee walked the city council through their written report, which describes problems that interfere with Mill Creek’s economic development and provides both short-term and long-term suggestions for addressing these problems.
Committee member Kevin Giboney presented the committee’s summary. He said the committee recognized the City’s coming budget shortfall and commented that the city council and staff have done a very good job controlling expenses and now the revenue side of the budget should be addressed.
Giboney encouraged the city council to take risks by increasing taxes, “As business owners here in the community that have invested in many cases their live savings, their retirement, their families financial well-being, we have taken risks… You ask a group of business people what their opinion would be. Our opinion is the city has to embrace taking more risk… On the local basis I think people are willing to invest in what affects them directly.”
Committee member Kim Stevens presented the committee’s findings, among which were the following:
- Mill Creek has the amenities and quality of life that's attractive to families and retirees; and the citizens living here are protective of that quality of life AND would like to keep it that way.
- There is an active interest in having more family-oriented community activities, like the annual Mill Creek Festival, Trunk or Treat, various runs and the Easter egg hunt.
- There are amenities like the North Creek Trail that are underutilized because citizens are not aware of them.
- Mill Creek has little or no control over the access or through traffic in the City.
- The City of Mill Creek has relatively low business taxes (no utility or Business & Occupation taxes).
- The financial resources have been adequate in the past but the City needs additional revenue sources to assist in preventing a budget shortfall in the next 2-4 years.
- There is no coordinated effort to market or promote the City as a place to do business or to visit retail outlets or restaurants.
- Current budgetary concerns and potential annexations are burdened by the Fire District #7 contract payments.
Committee Chairman Bill Schatz presented problems that the committee perceives to be holding back faster economic development in Mill Creek as follows:
- No dedicated space to hold public family-oriented events without disturbing commercial establishments and normal traffic patterns within the City.
- There is no web page that developers can access to get information about the City and what types of development the City is seeking.
- There is no coordinated effort to market or promote the good things the City has to offer.
- Fire District #7 contract payments create budgetary challenges and make annexations highly improbable.
- Current zoning codes restrict development.
- There is no City staff dedicated to foster economic development.
- The City has transportation issues with access and through traffic.
Schatz also presented short-term and long-term economic development ideas for the city council to consider. He said that their consensus of ideas were not completely vetted by the committee, “They certainly need a lot more investigation.”
Here are the Economic Development Committee’s ideas for increasing Mill Creek’s economy:
Short-term ideas (one year implementation)
- Add an Economic Development position to City staff.
- Promote the concept of a "big box" store in the EGUV for a reasonable time period and then if no contract evolves, offer an alternative design with focus on an arts and entertainment complex, restaurants and surrounding retail outlets.
- Create an Economic Development web page to use as a resource for property owners, developers and brokers to use as a marketing tool, by highlighting the benefits of living in Mill Creek or owning/developing a business in the City. The web page would feature the types of businesses the City would like to see in Mill Creek and provide a one-stop shop for development information and support.
- Create relationships with business organizations to determine necessary information to incentivize potential new businesses to locate in Mill Creek.
- Streamline and promote the online permitting process to make it simple and more pro-business.
- Create a City motto or tag line and use it in all promotions.
- Continue to provide community-oriented activities to enhance the character of the City, such as "Movies in the Park."
- Optimize North Creek Trail through promotion, signage for parking, addition of exercise stations and restrooms.
- Review and revise the current annexation policy document to modify it from a "pencil out" numbers focus to add elements of future control and potential new developments.
- Gather preliminary data for annexing the 164th corridor to 1-5 in order to manage future development and control a key artery from 1-5 to our City.
- Encourage the creation of a wetlands bank whereby developers could buy financial offsets to be used as mitigation in the same watershed.
- Change zoning codes to allow "mixed-use" in CB zones and increased building heights.
- Create a standing five member Economic Development Committee to advise the City Council, support the Economic Development Director and provide oversight on the economic development direction in the City.
Long-term ideas (two or more year implementation)
- Provide a dedicated facility for family-oriented public activities such as the Annual Mill Creek Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, and future possibilities such as the Munch at Mill Creek, etc.
- Reconsider the south-end annexation without the burden of the Fire District payments and using the rewritten annexation policy.
- Pursue partnerships with businesses to advance community enhancements such as the position the City of Monroe took in partnering with a movie theater in order to secure its establishment.
- As the Council approaches the 2017-18 budget process and plan, we understand there will be difficult decisions to be made. Besides reviewing the possibilities of increased property taxes, instituting a new utility tax, cutting services to the citizens, we think you should seriously consider annexing into Fire District #7.