Position 3 Questionnaire: Karen Moran

Karen Moran

Name: KAREN MORAN               

Position: #3

General

Why are you running for Sammamish City Council?

I have been involved in the Sammamish area for 30 years.  I was one of the two that filed for our incorporation. I have sat on the Planning Advisory Board (helping write our city’s comprehensive plan), Parks Commission, Planning Commission, KC Eastside Metro Transit Committee and currently am Water Commissioner for Sammamish Plateau Water.   I have experience and knowledge that I believe is extremely valuable at this juncture in the to the city’s development.

What do you hope to achieve?

A welcoming, family friendly, environmentally friendly, financially secure, safe, livable community that embraces diversity while meeting the needs of our current and future residents.

What are the Top Three issues you see as priorities?

  • ROADS
  • Responsible growth while being a good steward of our environment
  • Financial Management and fiscal responsibility

What data did you rely on to help you arrive at these priorities?

Most significantly, my personal experience. I have been intimately involved in the community for many years, both as a private citizen and in public service.

I have attended public meetings and round table discussions, heard our citizens concerns, and I share those concerns.

I know and understand our Comprehensive plan, and the requirements imposed on us by the State.

I have read and understand the City budget.

How would you solve these issues?

Implement a complete review of LOS and concurrency calculations, including AM/PM peak traffic counts segment averaging.  Work with Metro, businesses and surrounding cities to address our choke points.

Much of our remaining buildable land is potentially impactful to sensitive areas. Tree retention, slope stabilization and surface water management are major concerns.   We must be vigilant in managing these activities, to protect our lands and natural resources.

Initiate a review of priorities and spending in each department, at a much more detailed accounting level than has currently been provided by staff, including a more diligent review of contracts, current and future.

Finances

Please state your view of the current state of city finances. (IE, are they solid, precarious, neutral.) Please state why you reach your conclusion.

Concerning

An examination of Sammamish’s projected budget shows $199 million in expenses and $154 million in revenues over the 4-year budget period.

That shortfall of $45 million puts us at a crossover point in next 2 to 3 years where revenues no longer meet expenses.

This City needs to live on a budget, just like we, its citizens have to do in our private and business lives. I propose to review the budget in depth, streamline our spending and remove the fat before we consider new taxes.  An in-depth departmental review was not given at the Finance Retreat.

Do you feel a tax hike or imposition of a new tax is needed? If not, why not? If yes, why?

Again, we can go far by being selective and efficient in our spending before we consider new taxes.  At the most recent Council Financial Retreat, staff provided no transparency into department spending at an itemized level.  We need a much more detailed cost breakdown for each department, including contract costs, and a priority list for each department. We could then consider how a budget decrease of 5-10% per department might be accommodated.  We need also consider maintaining a reserve to address the potential of unexpected expenses that will arise in the future. Only then should we consider any new tax.

If a new tax is needed, what tax would you favor?

Really, I don’t favor any new tax. As property valuations are climbing in Sammamish, the City’s portion of income from property taxes continues to escalate. In addition, the City has taken millions of dollars in fees from property developers that should have been earmarked for mitigation and public projects. Past councils have already imposed a City sales tax and real-estate excise tax. We should be able to live comfortably within the existing tax structure with proper financial management.

What are some ways our city can increase revenue without raising taxes?

Again, the most impactful way to increase our net revenue is by managing our expenditures more effectively. Next in line would be to:

  • Lower levels of service in some cases. Not every road we build needs sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides.  We need to have more flexible design standards.   This is a cost reduction, but results in a net revenue increase.
  • Offer advertising opportunities on City publications and properties.
  • Increase fees by handling fishing licenses, unclaimed property, transportation tickets.
  • Increase certain impact and usage fees.
  • Franchise fees for private utilities (e.g., cable, electric, natural gas). I would not support fees on publicly-owned cooperatives such as water and sewer districts.

Parks and Recreation

Are more parks with ball fields needed? If yes, how would you achieve these?

We have historically had a critical shortage of sports fields in Sammamish. The City is currently engaged in a process called “Pro Plan,” presented through the parks board and initiated by the city council in June. I am anxious to see the output from this process and its assessment of the current situation.

In any case, we should continue to seek partnerships with school districts and other jurisdictions to maximum utilization of available facilities and facilities that become available with the addition of new schools in the City.  Partnerships are the most efficient way to meet this need.

East Lake Sammamish Trail: Only the Middle section, Section 2B, from the 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road, remains under permitting review and appeals by King County. This is the most difficult section to develop given the tight proximity of homes permitted by the County before Sammamish became a city. Please state the issues as you understand them and what your position is to resolve them.

The Trail has been a volatile issue since its inception, as it requires the need to balance property rights, drainage, tree retention and public safety. While the County is implementing the project for the benefit of residents county-wide, it is Sammamish that lives with the result. The City needs to remain diligent in dealing with the County, to ensure that the best interest of the City and its residents is paramount.  This trail needs to be opened. The county is being a bully.  We need to bring them back to the table and do what is right for citizens.

Developing the YMCA land adjacent Pine Lake Middle School is a contractual obligation to Sammamish in exchange for the YMCA’s financial contribution, program development and management of the Community Center. The City’s obligation is to develop an active use for the property, which is currently thick woods and encompassing sensitive areas. Some neighbors prefer a passive use, such as trails, to protect wildlife and the wetlands. Please state your understanding of the issues and the outcome you support.

This is topic is also being considered by the “Pro Plan” I mentioned above.  I have heard different ideas from many residents, including simply preserve the park in as natural a state as possible, and designing a park similar to Mercer Island’s “Adventure Park.”   I will support what comes out of the citizen review process. We can certainly have an active use park without destroying the natural beauty.

Roads and Transportation

Council Member Tom Odell has stated Sammamish neglected road improvements for 10 years. The City today is about to receive a draft Transportation Management Plan (on July 11, after this questionnaire is due back to us). This will perhaps make recommendations for priorities in road improvements. Until then, the only “plan” is the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

The TIP is available on the City’s website. Please state your opinion of the TIP projects and the cost of the projects listed in the TIP.

The TIP is basically a vision of where the city thinks roads will need to be built or enhanced.  It means nothing if it is not funded.  I believe the costs listed are underestimated for the projects as they are defined, especially given the changes just implemented in the past few weeks.

Do you believe the City can pay for these projects under its current financial condition? If not, how would you suggest paying for them?

I do not believe the city can pay for all concurrency projects as they are currently defined, given the current revenue forecast.  We first need to review the project designs with an eye toward cost efficiency. Then, given that the expense of road construction increases dramatically year over year, it may make better sense for the city to sell bonds at 3% than to try to finance the projects out of cash flow.

Issaquah-Fall City Road improvements were promised to the Klahanie area residents if they voted to annex to Sammamish. At the time, in 2014, City officials estimated the cost of this project would be about $23 million. The latest estimate is $32 million and this may rise. Do you support the current proposed design of the project, and how do you believe the City should pay for it?

Portions of this road have been on the TIP for years.  Incremental changes have occurred to address environmental protection and traffic flow.  Residents at the last open house raised concerns about the danger of children crossing the road without a regular traffic light, the rerouting of traffic during construction, and the number of roundabouts on the road at completion.

This project should have been done long ago in partnership with Issaquah.  After the Klahanie annexation, it now falls entirely upon Sammamish.  The first step is to get as much grant and state funding as possible before considering bond funding.

Sahalee Way became a highly controversial project, both in design and in cost. Initially it was promised that it would relieve congestion. However, the City’s contract traffic engineer stated it will not because Sahalee Way empties onto SR202. As a result, any improvements will be principally for safety, such as stop lights, turning lanes, bike lanes and a sidewalk on one side of the street. The project is estimated to cost $15 million-$16 million. Do you believe there is sufficient return on investment to support this cost, or do you believe the design should be modified to reduce the cost?

Sahalee Way has been on the TIP from the very beginning.  The city, at the very least, owes it to the citizens to bring this road up to city standards.  This is not a safe road for walking, biking or even trying to catch a bus.  Let’s start with a plan to bring it to city standards, and then consider the viability of additional upgrades.

Clearly we need to escalate discussions with King County and Redmond to address the backups on Sahalee way resulting from congestion outside the City.

What is your understanding of Concurrency and Level of Service?

Transportation concurrency means that transportation facilities must be available to accommodate the traffic generated by a proposed development at the City’s defined level of service standard.  Unfortunately, the standards originally put in place have been watered down, and are in need of review and amendment.

What data are you using to inform your positions on traffic management?

Aside from the common sense evidence I see each day, I rely on the City’s comprehensive plans, 2003 to current, the Transportation Resource Board’s Highway Capacity Manual, and the impact studies procured by the City on a per-project basis.

Utilities

Certain members of the current City Council occasionally suggest assuming the two water and sewer districts into the City, so that the City government has control over all operations of the districts; all assets; all revenue (and liabilities); and the ability to set rates.

Do you support or oppose assuming control of the Northeast Sammamish Water and Sewer District? Please state your reasons for your position.

The system we have in place, with independent, citizen-cooperative water districts, works quite well. The water provided by our districts is some of the best in the country, winning annual awards. Having the City assume that function adds another layer of management, dilutes the focus on resource management that is currently provided by the districts, and allows the diversion of resources currently dedicated to water management to the general fund.

Do you support or oppose assuming control of the Sammamish Plateau Water and sewer district? Please state your reasons for your position.

The Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer has been around for 70 years.  They are one of the few utilities with replacements plans and currently over $50 million in the bank to take care of those expenses. And the district still does not have a “crossover point.”  The city has zero experience in running a utility.  Leave this to those who know our natural resources and infrastructure and have been good stewards in taking care of it!

Storm water management is a City function. For the past 12 years, the Tamarack subdivision has had increasing storm water runoff issues from uphill development approved by the City. Residents have persistently appeared before the City Council asking for a City-funded solution. The current Council is split on (1) how to proceed), (2) whether more study is needed and (3) who should pay for resolution of these problems.

Please state your understanding of the Tamarack storm water management issues.  

As development has occurred uphill from Tamarack, unsatisfactory routing of surface water has resulted in flooding, and impacted wildlife in Lake Sammamish.

Please state how you would resolve the issues and who should pay for them.

Clearly the issue needs to be addressed.   While standards have changed over time, and Sammamish inherited much of the problem from King County, it has now created issues in our jurisdiction.   While we may be able to work with the County for mitigation, Sammamish will need to take their portion of responsibility for this. The citizens in this area deserve an answer sooner than later.

What other storm water management/runoff issues are you aware of?

Ebright Creek, Laughing Jacobs Creek, and Mystic Lake watersheds are some of the major concerns but, all over our city, we have pocket areas with storm water issues, again, much of it the result of historical decisions that we are now left to resolve.

Environment

Please state your positions on environmental issues:

  1. Protecting Lake Sammamish, Laughing Jacobs Lake, Pine Lake and Beaver Lake.

Certainly we can do a better job, going forward, of recognizing potential issues and circumventing them from the outset.  Still, we are left with a lot of cleanup from past development, when standards were lower or poorly enforced. We need to continue to make the addressing of these situations a priority, as resources allow and prioritized by degree of impact.

  1. Protecting wetlands and streams.

The answer here is the same as for the lakes. The wetlands, streams and lake watersheds are all part of the same ecosystem – water runs downhill – and we need to consider the ecosystem as a whole in our planning and implementations.

  1. Preserving trees.

Again, the trees provide an integral part of our ecosystem, and need to be considered in the overall equation. But at least as importantly, the trees are integral to the personality and heritage of Sammamish, as evidenced by the fir trees emblazoned on the City logo. We all live here because we embrace that personality and heritage. We don’t need to worship every alder seedling that pops its head up in spring, but we need a sensible plan that maintains our healthy and beautiful canopy.

Is the City doing enough, too much or not enough?

I think the City has made an honest effort in most cases. However, standards and enforcement haven’t evolved quickly enough to remain concurrent with the rapid growth we’ve experienced. In addition, I feel that the City has a made some poor decisions with regard to particular developments, and left us poorly equipped to mitigate their impact in terms of transportation as well as environmental issues. We need to fix this quickly.  We need to stop so many of the variances granted!!

Any Other Issues You Wish To Address

I promise that if elected, I will be a good listener and advocate for all of our citizens.

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