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.

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.

KING 5’s Joyce Taylor visits her hometown of Tacoma

KING 5 morning news anchor Joyce Taylor is a Tacoma girl, and proud of it. Her morning program does a regular gig called “Beyond the Studio” in which they spend a four-hour show in one community and tell a number of stories about people and places.

Joyce decided to come to Tacoma’s historic Hilltop neighborhood – where she grew up – to show viewers how much has changed in Tacoma over the years. She interviewed a number of folks, including Jon Kettler, who started Tacoma’s Innovative Schools program (SOTA, SAMI and IDEA), Steph Farber, the jeweler and longtime downtown Tacoma advocate, and the Rev. Anthony Steele of Allen AME Church.

She invited me on to talk about some great Metro Parks Tacoma successes, including the new $8 million pool and other improvements at People’s Community Center. We also talked about the challenges of trying to provide services to preschoolers, youth, teens, young adults and older adults in one community center. And I got to brag for a minute about our great partnerships with Tacoma Public Schools, including agreements to bus kids from Jason Lee Middle School to People’s for swim lessons, and our Elementary Sports Program that doubled youth participation in recreational sports by offering the activities on-site at 35 elementary schools.

I met with Joyce twice, and I love her enthusiasm and affection for our community. I’m hoping to invite her back to speak at a local event or two.

Here’s the 2 1/2-minute segment.

How Fircrest voted on ST3 in November 2016

Did you get your car tab renewal yet from the state? If you did, chances are you are feeling some serious sticker shock.

The November 2016 Sound Transit 3 ballot measure proposed building rail and bus projects over the next few decades, and paying for all of that expansion via various taxes. One of those projects will directly benefit Fircrest – the next phase of the streetcar extension will connect downtown to Tacoma Community College. Property values will soar in the future as light rail makes its way up 19th Street. Another huge improvement will be connecting Tacoma to SeaTac and beyond via light rail.

We knew car tabs were part of the financing package, but the scope of the car tab increase was definitely a surprise to most (including me, and I read a lot about it before I voted). Most attention was on Sound Transit’s first-ever use of property taxes, so few folks looked at the effect on the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tax that you see on your car tab renewal.

Well, people are certainly paying attention now. (I got the renewal for one of my cars last week and … whoa.) As a result, the Legislature is considering proposals that range from making the car tab valuation formula more fair to letting cities opt out of the Sound Transit district.

The district covers Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. Pierce County’s portion of the district voted against ST3, but the package was approved due to stronger support in King and SnoCo.

Fircrest has four voting precincts: 28-535 through 538. The ST3 vote was very close in the land of firs:

Approve:             1,823

Reject:             1,809

So it won in the ‘Crest by 14 votes.

That’s not exactly a voter mandate either way. Half of our city voted to relieve congestion expanding our regional transit service. That’s why I agree with calls like this one for Sound Transit and the Legislature to adjust the car tab formula.