These are my observations of the meeting last night. I encourage everyone to attend. ~ Karen
The meeting began on time with Mayor Pro-tem Huson leading the flag salute. Council Member Hedrick asked for more information on the items Council Member Albertson had placed on the agenda and wondered if the issues would be better handled under council time. The town attorney answered that no discussion could happen during council time, so the issues were better addressed as business items.
Hedrick moved to have all the minutes considered at once. After walking through some minor corrections, the minutes from the last 8 meetings were approved unanimously.
1) Police Officer Raises: Chief Reese discussed the need to bring department pay up to a competitive level with the surrounding area. Currently, Ruston needs to find a replacement for chief, one full time officer and one reserve. The pay increase will help with retention as well, and is tied to performance evaluations. This was a first reading, so no vote will be taken until next meeting. Council Member Hunt voiced support, Council Member Stebner asked how the crime rate in Tacoma compared to Ruston (hard to compare, but the chief felt it was lower).
2) Amending Stack Hill Plan: First reading only, vote will be taken at the next meeting. The town planner presented the planning commissions findings and recommendation that the amendment be approved (to remove the requirement for a view corridor on Lot 12). Hunt asked what the planning commission vote count was (3-1 with 2 excused).
Albertson was opposed based both on substance and procedure. On the initial vote on this issue, one council member had excused themselves and he expected the same this time. He voted not to give away the view last time and will vote the same again. He felt the council was acting in the best interest of the developer, not of the town. He thought the vote was all prearranged as part of the settlement of Point Ruston’s lawsuit.
Hedrick discussed his role in working with Point Ruston. He had openly volunteered to work on the issue. He feels Ruston is running like a small law firm with so many lawsuits. For once, he wanted to see the town mitigate rather than litigate. The first time the issue was considered former Mayor Everding did not sign the ordinance and the plat had not been filed. That was an opportunity to address the issue again using normal channels (via the planning commission). Hedrick asked the applicant to consider this approach. The process was then handed over to the town attorney. Nothing (especially the vote) had been prearranged. The house that would be built on Lot 12 will be lower than the base of the former smokestack – lower than anything envisioned in the earlier Master Plan. Having that house on the tax rolls would be a benefit to the town.
Hunt thought it was good to follow the correct process now. Stebner felt he had a responsibility to protect the view of any resident who wanted their view. It was not his job to follow the planning commission’s recommendations, but to be independent.
Albertson did not feel approving this amendment would prevent any lawsuit, but give different people a reason to sue. He recalled the first time around, certain members of the council “ran around like their hair was on fire” saying the former Master Plan requirement for a view corridor had to apply, but that message in not heard now.
3) FEMA Flood Insurance: Passed 5-0
4) Tacoma providing all Ruston services: Albertson stated that Huson had told him he was pursing having Tacoma provide all services for all of Ruston (not just the Point Ruston site). He wanted to know the outcome of that discussion.
Huson stated that he, Hunt and former mayor Everding had met with Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson in July. The primary content of the discussion was about the Point Ruston LID, but that Everding had led the discussion. Huson felt it was important to have all the available information given the current challenges Ruston is facing. Tacoma indicated they did not have time to give any proposal for taking over fire services since they are in the midst of an extensive accreditation process, but may be able to provide a bid by next summer. Huson felt that Ruston would have to make some tough choices in order to continue, and that the town is currently over-spending for its services.
Huson said he will not bring up the issue of hiring a town administrator since he does not have enough support on the council. His priorities are to get Point Ruston, Stack Hill and the Commencement condo’s built and on the tax rolls as quickly as possible.
5) Huson spending 8 hrs weekly on town business: Albertson asked Huson to explain his comment at the last meeting about not being able to spend more than 8 hours a week on town business after vehemently criticizing former Mayor Transue for not spending enough time on the job. He wanted to know how much time Huson was spending on the job, how much time is really needed and what is missing because not enough time is given.
Hedrick asked if this was a court room or council meeting. Huson said he was happy to explain. What he said at the last meeting was that he was only able to take one day off from his regular job to deal with Ruston business. But his work days are much longer than 8 hours. He spends much of his free time working for Ruston as well. It would be better if someone could spend more time.
Albertson then announced that Stebner is ready and willing to serve as a full time mayor. Huson said he would remain as mayor pro-tem until the end of October as planned. He would put the issue on the agenda for the next meeting.
6) Requiring public commenters to give the address of their primary residence: Albertson felt this was a problem at the last meeting and wanted to change the rules to add this requirement before anyone is allowed to address the council. If someone does not live in Ruston, their comments can be appropriately weighed against those of residents. Hedrick confirmed this was not intended to limit public comment. Albertson will prepare a resolution for the next meeting.
7) B&O Tax Increase: Albertson felt Ruston should make its B&O tax rate equal to Tacoma’s rate. Hunt agreed. Stebner also wants the town to ensure they are collecting all the tax they are supposed to from local businesses. Albertson will prepare a resolution for the next meeting.
Stebner asked the town attorney if he had updated the penalty clause for new ordinances. The attorney had circulated a draft, and will get it out to the council again.
8) Attending Conferences: The council approved sending any civil service commission members who want and the town attorney to upcoming conferences.
9) Rust Park as off-leash dog park: Huson had circulated a memo from last December from AWC about potential liability for Ruston by having an off-leash dog park where people/children and dogs co-mingle. He wanted to post the town ordinance on the issue until they could think of a better idea. Many more people are hearing about the park and Tacoma police are encouraging their residents to bring their dogs. There was discussion about clearing out the town-owned land to the east of the park as an area for dogs (Chief Reese is already working to use Department of Corrections/prisoners to help) or putting up the fence as first planned to keep dogs on the grass only (but it does not solve the people/dog mingling issue).
This led into talk of using the OCF park for people and restricting Rust Park for only dogs. Stebner had heard there was going to be a land swap. Hunt said EPA told Point Ruston in August they could deed over the OCF to a private owner if they wanted, but she felt Ruston residents had only allowed material to be placed in that containment area in exchange for a public park. Hunt wants Metro Parks to take over the park, but it’s not clear if they are willing to consider it. The town attorney will check into what Seattle does for their dog parks. The issue will be discussed at the next council meeting.
Claims and payroll passed 5-0.
Deb Krisovich expressed support for the dog park. Many people want this for a dog park and are using it responsibly, but there are growing problems with some dogs and owners. The rules of the park need to be posted (i.e. bring a leash).
Bruce Hopkins discussed why 10-yard set backs are good. He also liked the dog park but expected the liability issue would mean we loose it.
I suggested the council ask their park committee to look into the dog park issue.
Edie Tallman wanted signs at the park to tell people to pick up after their dogs. She is having problems with parking in front of her house again.
Lyle Hardin felt the B&O tax was a regressive tax, but as a small business owner he and his wife are willing to pay more tax if it helps keep Ruston going. But the council should be looking at other sources of revenue at the same time. He also did not like the idea of requiring people to name their residence in order to be allowed to speak. It seemed more like an outgrowth of a personality conflict and was not an issue that needed to be legislated. He wondered what would be next; would renters be prevented from speaking?
Terry Knapp wondered if the dog park could be limited to Ruston residents only.
Sherri Forch wanted to be sure any dog area would include a way to close the gate so dogs like hers could not escape.
Jim Wingard expressed concerns about the numbers of dogs he has seen at the park.
Connie Maglione did not like changing the requirements for public comment. If people were at the meeting, they were involved and should be allowed to comment. She recalled the B&O tax rate was lowered to help attract new businesses. She felt the town had faced more lawsuits in the last few years that she recalled ever seeing before.
Huson noted that Point Ruston will be giving an update soon. He has met with The Commencement about Bennett Street issues and hopes to have a resolution soon. The 2009 budget is being reviewed by department heads and should be to the council soon. He reiterated that he won’t ask again to hire a town administrator, but felt things were not being addressed because of it. He had discussed the idea of a welcome packet with me for new town residents. He reminded the council there had only been one verbal application for mayor at this point.
Stebner felt sewers need to be addressed. Huson noted that hiring an engineer for the town would be on the next agenda. Huson thought the issue would be better addressed by the town engineer rather than the planner. Stebner also wanted the need for new street lights to be addressed soon.
Hedrick had nothing more at the moment.
Albertson wanted to know if the casino had paid taxes at the new rate before closing down the gambling. The town attorney said they were putting the difference between the new and old rate into a separate account until the lawsuit was resolved. Albertson praised the town attorney’s brief on the casino injunction request. Albertson felt the brief was so good that it was the reason that the casino did not even show up at the hearing on the issue recently.
He also felt Stebner should be appointed mayor now so things could get done. He felt Stebner had the appropriate demeanor for a mayor. Albertson thought that some of the comments at the last two meetings from the mayor were out of place and needed to stop.
Hunt reported on the liaison meetings she has had with Point Ruston, focusing on infrastructure issues (which is her council committee). She felt the Baltimore sewer improvements needed to be addressed in conjunction with the new road. The storm sewer line across the property needs to be replaced. Rebuilding Ruston Way could be done faster if the road is allowed to be closed rather than diverting traffic. Point Ruston is going to design the electrical system and Ruston will review the plan. The Shoreline Development permit will go before the planning commission and include a public hearing. Stebner was concerned about having Ruston pay for the new storm sewer.
Huson noted the bill for the new planner only included $2,500 that is not billed to the permit applicants. With that the mayor adjourned the meeting just before 9 pm (without a vote of the council).