Mayor’s Message: how Fircrest voted on the park bond

The voters of Fircrest spoke loud and clear on April 23 when they overwhelmingly approved the park bond to pay for a new pool and community center as well as other park improvements.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are the final numbers from the special election:

YES     1,716   79.15%

NO          452   20.85%

The final vote tally was 2,168, which was far ahead of the minimum 1,418 needed in order for the results to be validated. And a final piece of trivia: 681 ballots were submitted via the Pierce County ballot drop box at Fircrest City Hall.

As they say on TV, “but wait, there’s more!” We have promised to continue seeking grants and donations to fund this project, and I’m excited to let you know about a big achievement. The three-member delegation that represents us in the Legislature — Rep. Mari Leavitt, Rep. Christine Kilduff, and Sen. Steve O’Ban of the 28th Legislative District — helped us get a $1 million grant from the state. That’s the Legislature’s second grant for this project, and it brings the state’s total contribution to $1.75 million. We are very grateful for the strong support from our legislators, and I hope you will take a moment to share your appreciation when you see the them in the community.

On behalf of the City of Fircrest, I want to thank a number of people who contributed their time and talent to get us to this point.

First, I thank the residents who volunteered to serve on the project steering committee. This group met throughout 2018 and into mid 2019 to do a deep dive into every aspect of the pool and community center, including building design, layout, landscaping, furnishings, and the business plan. They represented a cross-section of the community, including families, seniors, the Fircrest Soccer Club, the Kiwanis Club, and more.

Second, I thank our staff and City Council members. City Manager Scott Pingel and Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Grover served as the points of contact with ARC Architects and the steering committee. Councilmember Brett Wittner served as chairman of the steering committee, and Councilmembers Blake Surina and Shannon Reynolds helped represent the Council during those in-depth discussions.

This project began five years ago when we updated the City of Fircrest’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan. Since then, a lot of people have put a lot of work into developing and designing a new pool and community center that will serve future generations. Thanks to overwhelming support from voters, we are putting that plan into action.

Mayor’s Message: the challenge of maintaining our recycling program

If you’re old enough, like me, then you have learned to automatically adopt certain habits, such as always wearing a seatbelt in the car, silencing your cell phone in the movie theater, and separating your garbage from your recycling.

But that recycling habit is becoming a lot less virtuous.

There has been a lot of news coverage about the precipitous drop in the recycled materials markets, but in case you missed it here’s the gist: for years, the stuff you put in those big blue bins was sold and shipped overseas, mainly to China. But last year China stopped taking plastics, mixed paper and other materials from the United States. The market for our empty orange juice bottles, newspapers and cat food containers (well, there’s a glimpse of what’s in my can) suddenly dried up.

It doesn’t take an economics degree to understand what happens when there’s no market for certain goods. Recycling programs in cities across the country are bleeding red ink. Some cities are limiting what items they’ll accept.

Our friends at the City of Tacoma are asking their customers for feedback on some drastic options that range from eliminating curbside recycling to maintaining full services and raising rates $4 a month.

At the moment, there are no changes to the recycling program in Fircrest. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an impact.

While the City of Tacoma operates its own garbage and recycling service, the City of Fircrest has a multi-year contract for those services with University Place-based Westside Disposal.

Westside Disposal used to offset some of its operational costs by earning an average of $26,421 a year in revenue from selling its recycled commodities. However, last year the company had to pay $32,307 to the recycling plant.

Earlier this year, the company asked the Fircrest City Council for permission to add a 2.57% surcharge to monthly bills for one year in order to recoup those losses. That would have added 81 cents to the most popular service (64-gallon bin).

It doesn’t sound like much, but Councilmembers wrestled with the principle of it because that’s why we have a contract — to protect you against fluctuations in rates.

For now, the City Council decided to decline the company’s request. This is a global problem that affects a company that has provided outstanding and efficient service to our residents for many years. Let me know what you think by emailing me at hgeorge@cityoffircrest.net.

Mayor’s Message: Pool and Recreation Center update

Mayor’s Message for the December 2018 Town Topics newsletter

When I last wrote about the pool and recreation center in the March edition, we had just hired ARC Architects and we were in the process of appointing a steering committee of Fircrest residents who volunteered to help guide the project. They’ve been very productive, and I want to share this update with you.

The City Council received valuable input from the steering committee and the architects and made some decisions in November:

  • We unanimously agreed to put a combined pool and recreation center replacement project on the ballot in April 2019. Voters will make the final decision.
  • We considered two design options for the pool, and while both versions included a “kiddie pool” we chose the design that separates it from the main pool.
  • If approved by voters, the project would be built in two phases. The pool construction would start as soon as the summer 2019 season ends, with the goal of opening the new pool in time for the 2020 season. Construction of the new recreation center would start a couple of years later.

With those decisions made, we were working at the time of this writing (in mid-November) to finalize the design and complete the cost estimates.

We are working hard to seek outside sources of funding to alleviate the burden on taxpayers. To date, we have secured a generous $1 million grant from the Edwards Family Foundation, $750,000 from the Washington Legislature for the pool replacement, and $750,000 in City of Fircrest reserves. We are working on plans to request several million dollars from other philanthropic foundations, and we plan to ask for another grant from the Legislature for the community center portion of the project.

The pool and recreation center have been the centerpiece of our community since 1962. Public surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018 both showed very strong support for taking the steps necessary to ensure we have quality facilities for community use for years to come.

The city will continue to post updated information here in the “Up-To-Date Information” area of the website.

I want to close by thanking everyone who served on the project steering committee, and everyone who took the time to take the surveys that influenced the design. This is not a City Council project. It’s a city project.

I hope all of you have an enjoyable and fulfilling holiday season.

Mayor’s Message: 39 reasons why this is a great place to live

Mayor’s Message for the October 2018 Town Topics newsletter

I can think of 39 reasons why Fircrest is such a great place to live. They are the 39 year-round employees of the City of Fircrest.

You see some of them fairly often — the police officers, the parks and recreation team, and the Public Works crew members who maintain our streets and utilities.

Then there’s a group that you may see only on occasion. Our planning and building staff work with residents and businesses on construction permits, code enforcement, etc. Our Municipal Court staff are fair and professional, even though many of the “customers” they encounter aren’t there because they want to be (unless they’re coming in to get a passport).

And finally, there’s a group of employees you’ll probably never see, but who are crucial to the city’s operations. They work behind the scenes to handle the city’s finances, process criminal records, maintain our buildings, manage administrative services, and keep our information technology systems functional, among other key tasks.

These employees really know our city. Twenty employees have worked here for at least a decade — and seven of those have been here at least 30 years! That’s a lot of institutional knowledge. Police Chief John Cheesman tops the list as he approaches his 36th year of service to the City of Fircrest. Public Works foreman Jeff Davis is only a year behind the chief.

I’m also glad to see new hires come in. They bring fresh ideas and experiences. Twelve of our 39 employees have worked here less than two years.

At the time of this writing (in early September), our newest employee is named Lindsay and she works in our Finance Department. Who knows — maybe a future mayor of FIrcrest will congratulate Lindsay on her 30th work anniversary in 2048.

Mayor’s Message: what should Fircrest be like 20 years from now?

Mayor’s Message for the August 2018 Town Topics newsletter

When people ask you what it’s like to live in Fircrest, what do you tell them? Can you define what it is that makes Fircrest feel so special?

The seven members of the Fircrest City Council joined with the city’s department heads in a half-day workshop in June to talk about our collective mission, vision and goals. A mission statement should define the city’s objectives and approach. In other words, it reflects who we are. The vision statement should reflect who we want to be in the future.

We started our workshop by talking about the current mission and vision statements, which were written years ago:

Mission: To enhance the quality of life where we live, work, and play, the City of Fircrest provides its citizens with efficient, courteous, professional services.

Vision: To protect and enhance our identity and quality of life and promote open and honest communication that builds a trusting environment. We will inspire a stronger community by working together toward excellence.

Personally, I feel those statements are accurate, but too generic. They could be written for lots of nice cities and towns. As our workshop discussion revealed, there were words, phrases and descriptions that speak in greater detail to who we want to be. In response to the question of what should Fircrest look like 10 to 20 years from now, here is some of what I heard that day:

Fircrest is family friendly. Our neighborhoods are safe, healthy, accessible, and connected. We remain true to the historic designs when the city was founded. Remodels and infill projects fit within the scale and character of neighborhoods. Neighbors look out for each other. Residents volunteer their time and talent to support the city, and they give constructive feedback to local leaders to help boost pride in living here.

The pool and community center are beloved sources of pride, and our efforts to update them reflect the needs of the community. We love our parks, trees and landscapes. The city works to protect and nurture our beautiful natural environment. Our commercial areas are an important asset to the community and offer goods and services that our residents desire. Our infrastructure — the backbone of the community — is sound and regularly maintained. Fircrest continues to feel like a small town even as it engages in the larger metropolitan area.

That last line is a key one, in my opinion. There’s a feeling people get when they enter Fircrest, and it’s a challenge to capture that feeling in the dry language of municipal codes that regulate development. We will never stop trying to figure out how to write codes that nurture the city’s character in a rapidly changing world.

What do you think? Did we miss anything? Feel free to send me your thoughts and I will share them with the City Council and staff. You can reach me at hgeorge@cityoffircrest.net or 115 Ramsdell St., Fircrest, WA 98466.

Why can’t we check out items from that awesome library in UP?

Every few months, someone posts some variation of the following questions on Facebook: “Why can’t we use the library in UP? Why does Fircrest reimburse the cost of a Tacoma library card, but not a Pierce County library card?”

My wife and I are professional writers. We both grew up going to local libraries in our hometowns. This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, so I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about it. Here’s a primer that should help explain why things are the way they are in Fircrest:

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Check out the City of Fircrest’s new website

I offer big congratulations to Colleen Corcoran, Angelie Stahlnecker and other city staff members who have worked for the past year to build a new City of Fircrest website.

I also thank Mayor Jolibois for creating a Communications Committee last year and asking me to lead it alongside Councilmembers Brett Wittner and Shannon Reynolds. Our committee met with staff throughout 2016 and launched the city’s Facebook page and contracted with Tacoma-based Sitecrafting to build a new site.

It looks great!

South Sound Proud: #LiveLikeTheMountainIsOut every day

I recently got invited to be a guest on Marguerite Giguere’s Move to Tacoma podcast. I went on with the goal of talking about 6 new things that add to the Tacoma/Piece County region’s coolness factor.

  1. Sound Sound Proud: the campaign to “Live Like the Mountain Is Out.” I’ve had the privilege of working on this project for over a year with a great group of communicators. That slogan speaks to our attitude – our state of mind – about living here.
  2. The Downtown to Defiance trolley, which starts June 2nd.
  3. The new Pacific Seas Aquarium that’s under construction at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Coming in mid 2018: hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, giant Japanese spider crabs, and more!
  4. A new 11-acre park at Point Defiance Park also opens in 2018. It will feature an event lawn, a paved trail linking Ruston Way with Point Defiance, a pedestrian bridge offering incredible views, a series of slides down a steep hill, and more boat trailer parking. Think Gasworks Park, only better.
  5. One of my favorite projects to be a part of is the development of the Eastside Community Center in a part of Tacoma that badly needs it. Features will include an amazing pool, a gym, social hall, teaching kitchen, recording studio, multipurpose rooms, cafe and more.
  6. Swan Creek Park: did you know that Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance members tallied thousands of volunteer hours as they built over 5 miles of trails in this huge park in East Tacoma? People are coming from far away to ride these trails.

Before we got to all of that, Marguerite and I talked about civic engagement, my experiences on the Fircrest City Council, and of course, what caused me to move here.

You can find a link to our conversation here.

And check out her website’s section on Fircrest here.

Chasing a ghost in our water pipes

The Washington State Department of Health has ordered Fircrest to add chlorine to its water system next year.

The reason: portions of our water system have tested positive for the presence of coliform bacteria four times in the past 12 months. Coliform are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment, but are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful bacteria could be present. Under state rules, a fourth coliform hit in a 12-month period triggers a mandatory order to permanently disinfect the system with chlorine.

According to health officials, all but two of approximately 1,400 water systems in Pierce County add chlorine to their water as a disinfectant. Fircrest and Mountain View Edgewood Water Company are the two. Barring a miracle, that Edgewood system will be the last.

Here’s what we know so far:

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Coming in summer 2016: sidewalks on Emerson Street!

There are a few areas in our city that are in desperate need of sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety.

One is the busy Mildred Street commercial corridor, which is why we helped the City of University Place win a grant a few years ago to remake the street and add sidewalks. We hope UP will do that project in 2016.

Another area of need is Emerson Street, from Alameda Avenue to Orchard Street. I live in the Commons at Fircrest, and we have dozens of children in our neighborhood. It scares me to death to see them head uphill toward Alameda on that very busy street with no sidewalks.

That’s why I’m happy to report that Fircrest just won a grant from the State of Washington Transportation Improvement Board. The $575,000 grant – plus a $143,000 match from city funds – will provide sidewalks from Alameda to Orchard.

The Fircrest City Council unanimously voted on Dec. 8 to accept the grant. The city expects to hire an engineer to design the project in spring 2016 and build the sidewalks in the summer.

Next on my sidewalk priority list: 44th Street. Even with its numerous blind hills, it’s harder to win a grant for that street because it’s not legally considered an arterial (most grants go to arterials). But it’s a direct shot to Narrows View Intermediate School just across Bridgeport Way, so I’m hopeful that the folks who issue these grants will see it as a student safety issue when the next round of grant applications are due.