Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Zoolights Extended

A very amateur shot at a very busy Zoolights tonight. I heard many comments from apparent newcomers who were struck with the beauty of the "field of lights" with promises to make this a regular part of their holiday festivities. There are plenty of us in Ruston who realize how lucky we are to have a world-class zoo at our doorstep and Zoolights is already part of our Christmas tradition.

The snow closed the exhibits for several days last week, so we were late in our annual visit (as was much of Tacoma apparently). To make up for the loss (and hopefully the much needed revenue this fundraiser provides), Zoolights will be open next weekend on January 9th through 11th from 5 pm till 9 pm. You can purchase tickets at the zoo web page.

The meercats are open, lots of beautiful lights and a few new displays make the trip well worth it. Enjoy the privildege of living next to one of the most beautiful parks in the world!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Old Coles Tavern Transformed

The proposal for a new building to replace the burned out shell of the former Coles Tavern includes a couple of variance requests. The applicant is asking to reduce the setback requirements and allow a little more height. Compare this image with what currently exists (click here).

Bear in mind the town increased the allowable height by 10 feet to allow for taller buildings in this business core, in part to do just what is occurring now. The third story of building space (already allowed under current code) is intended to encourage new development. This height variance requests an additional 4 feet, 8 inches so that the interior ceiling heights can be more comfortable and appealing. The lead architect for the project David Boe explains the reasoning:

The easiest way to describe this issue is that the total building height is limited to 35 feet maximum including all of the screening requirements of the roof-top mechanical units (which typically extends about 5 feet above the roof deck of the structure). The Town’s Comprehensive Plan desires to have three story buildings in this part of Ruston so that two floors of living space can be located above a ground floor of retail (thus creating additional housing density while providing sidewalk commercial space). So the total building envelope is squeezed to such an extent to meet the maximum building height (and screen the roof-top mechanical equipment remember) that the interior spaces all end-up with minimal ceiling heights. This is especially disappointing for the ground floor retail which wants to have higher ceilings and higher windows to make it an attractive interior that is inviting from the sidewalk. Without a bit of additional height to the building, the proportions of a three-story building end up having an appearance more like a suburban motel and less like the historic three-story buildings of a neighborhood mixed-use center. It should also be noted that the height variance is not to add a fourth floor (which would take it beyond the Town’s Comprehensive Plan) but just to allow a three-story building to have good exterior and interior proportions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Calling All History Lovers

As the end of yet another year draws close, its natural to look back. In this case, way back. I want to document our history in Ruston. If anyone has stories and especially photos they are willing to share, please contact me at kpickett22@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ruston By Another Name

The article about Orting in yesterday's News Tribune sounds like a mirror image of the discussions Ruston had a couple of years ago. Orting is considering reducing its parking requirements and allowing taller buildings in its downtown as a way to encourage development.

Ruston reduced its parking requirements a couple of years ago and allowed some increase in buildng height along Pearl and 51st Street. The planning commission has recommended 45 feet height in this block (to match Tacoma on the other side of the street), but when the issue reached the council they reduced it to 35 feet.

Orting is motivated, in part, by a new development area not far from its downtown that is not as restrictive, making it more attractive for developers. City leaders want to make sure their existing downtown remains competitive. That too sounds similar to Ruston. With the Point Ruston retail core on the horizon, it could have a impact on the existing businesses up the hill. The Point Ruston businesses will be a wonderful addition, but perhaps its time to revisit the issue and ensure our current business core has the tools to keep all of Ruston going strong.

What do you think? What things would help the current business core? What role, if any, should the town take in balancing these two business areas?


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas To All

I went in search of icicles in the Ruston tunnel the other morning. There were only a few small ones left. I expect our trusty town maintenance men knocked them down when they grew too large earlier in the week. The sight of icicles dangling from the dark roof of the tunnel will soon be a thing of the past. The tunnel is due to be closed soon in favor of a new road through the Point Ruston development.

Rather than icicles, I found other beautiful sights in the hushed stillness. I thought I'd share some shots with you on this Christmas Eve. As we gather with loved ones tonight and tomorrow, may we recapture some of that childhood joyous anticipation of this night and the magic of believing in something beyond what our eyes can see ~ like the magic of community we share in this small town. Merry Christmas neighbors.


Point Ruston

A couple of points of interest for the Point Ruston project. Mike Cohen was named Grinch of the Year by Jobs for Justice (Tacoma Weekly article here). The article has some good information from Mr. Cohen's side of the on-going debate with this group.

And Point Ruston team has posted a few clips of the stack demolition has been posted on youtube (click here).

A Better Look in 2009

Ruston has received an application to upgrade this long-vacant building on N. 51st Street. The plans and drawings are available on the town planners web site (click here). Having this empty space become productive again will be a big benefit for the town. Another reason to celebrate the new year!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2009 Budget Approved

The council is required to approve a 2009 town budget before the end of the month. It came down to the wire this year, but a budget was approved last night. There was a lengthy discussion around the salary ordinance, and the budget may need to be amended in the new year. The meeting materials (including the budget that was approved) are available by clicking here. Council Member Hedrick kindly offered this summary of the meeting last night:

Ordinance 1277 was adopted without amendment last night. We have a Town budget for 2009.

The debate centers around Ordinance 1276, NOT adopted by the Council, which would provide a salary schedule for all Town employees which is already in the budget ordinance (1277). One, it is not clear to anyone why a stand alone ordinance has to be adopted. It has been established as a standard practice here in Ruston but not clear to anyone, including the Town attorney, as to why. Second, it is not clear the salary amounts in Ordinance 1276 comport with the salary schedule adopted in Ordinance 1267. Ordinance 1267 was previously adopted by the Council whereby an enhanced salary schedule, including performance pay increase, was established for the Ruston Police Department. We, the Council, agreed to review whether or not there is sufficient funding in both Ordinance 1277 and 1276 to cover the costs of the PD's new salary schedule. So yes, we may amend the budget, if necessary, to appropriate those additional funds. That will not occur until our meeting on January 5.

In other news, further action on Ordinance 1275 was also postponed until January 5. 1275 is the conditional use development permit for the Silver Cloud Hotel. The Town Planner was not present last night and Council members continue to have questions. It was agreed to hold a Study Session re: the conditional use permit on January 5, prior to the regular council meeting.
That's what I saw happen last night.

In attendance: Lynnette Hopkins, Jim Wingard, Al Olsen, Sharon Reese, Gary Pederson

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Police Chief Update

The 3 finalists for Ruston's police chief have completed their oral board exam, but none were selected for the position. So it's back to the drawing board. Chief Reese said the town has begun the advertising process again.

Chief Reese heads off to the east coast to join her husband this week, so the mayor will likely appoint an interim chief again.

Holiday Snow

I love these adventures, especially when the heat stays on. Snow turns the mundane into something pure, clean and beautiful. It creates joy for the kids, even when school isn't canceled. And this snow, with the Christmas decorations in the foreground make for a memorable holiday season this year.

Enjoy your crunchy walks around Ruston today ~ take in the sights, greet the neighbors and smile at the beautiful gift that nature has given us this morning. Email your photos to kpickett22@yahoo.com if you want to share. ~ Karen

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Suggestions for the Storm

In case you haven't been glued to the tv or news web sites like we have, Police Chief Reese was handing out these notices today with suggestions on how to handle the storm predicted for tonight, and a note from Pierce County's emergency shelters.

Stay safe and warm ~ and enjoy this rare Christmastime snow!

Bringing Joy

In the cold quiet before the storm, Santa rode in on Ruston's fire engine to greet his fans young and old. Along with the candy, youngsters got a toy (thanks to Santa helper Reese). It was a great time to explore the fire engine, as well as chat with the big guy. Thanks to the Torbet, Kress and Widrig family for sharing their poses with us...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa Is Coming! Santa Is Coming!

Ruston's much loved traditional Santa visit, arriving with lights and sirens on the fire engine, happens tomorrow at noon. When you hear the noise all over town, you'll know its time to head to Town Hall (5117 N. Winnifred) for candy and pictures with the big guy. Our neighbors in the big city can stop in too. The party begins at noon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ruston Council Materials

For those of you who love the details, I have posted the information provided at the last council meeting on December 15, 2008. I've broken it into categories:
1) various
2) 2009 budget
3) Point Ruston shoreline permit report
4) B&O tax ordinance


No Grinch In Ruston!

This Tuesday, Ruston Firefighters loaded up the fire engine with the many, many Toys for Tots donated at Town Hall. Rumor has it that much of these came from our town clerk, web master and police chief Reese. The day before, the food bank van stopped at Town Hall and hauled off boxes and boxes of food.

The Santa fire fighters delivered the toys to Marine Corps folks, along with the donations from Milton and Edgewood fire departments. Ruston made the largest contribution by far. Here are a few shots of the festivities - various fire chiefs and Marine Corps included.

It is a joy to live is a community with such generous, dedicated people. A special thanks to Santa Karen, Jeff and Sharon ~ and all who dontated. We are blessed indeed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

B&O Tax Rate Clarified

Here is the responses from the town attorney to my question about the B&O tax rates. I am glad he was able to confirm that the rates are similar.


The idea is indeed to bring our B and O taxes in line with Tacoma's. I hope nobody will read anything nefarious into this - if we are to survive as a Town we need to both cut spending and raise revenues; raising the B and O rate from one of the lowest in the state to something more on line with the surrounding area seemed fair, and will add much needed revenue to help keep us going.

As for the "direct multiplier," I'm not sure what is meant. All B and O tax rates are "multiples" of gross revenue. This is probably confusing because our old rate was tied to the state's B and O tax rate (10 percent of the state B and O rate), which was extremely low vis a vis other jurisdictions. You have to be careful to distingiush between the municipal rates and the much higher rate the state can charge.

Finally, please note that we did not replicate Tacoma's rate on services (I believe), which was .4 percent. This is higher than the maximum rate allowed under state law, but Tacoma had that rate in place prior to the passage of that law and is thus grandfathered in. We therefore went with .2 percent, which is the rate imposed for services by most of the B and O taxing jurisdictions.

Hope this helps.
Karen -

I just read through your blog entries on the B and O tax increase. Please note that although you have characterized Ruston's rates as 10 times what Tacoma's are, this is not accurate and is certainly not our intent. If, for example, Tacoma's retail rate is .002, ours is .2 percent. This is of course the same thing. I don't want to cause confusion - we were merely using the same format (i.e., a perecentage of 1 percent of gross revenue rather than a straight percentage) to provide some continuity and (I had hoped) eliminate confusion.

Days Are Numbered For The Tunnel

This note about the eventual closure of our tunnel was on yesterday's New Tribune's web site. What will we do for entertainment around here if the tunnel is gone and no large vehicles try to make it through? Read more here...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Council Meeting: December 15, 2008

Highlights of tonight's meeting include:
  • B&O tax rate was approved as listed in Ordinance 1274. No public comment was allowed prior to the vote.
  • Salary classifications and pay rates were reviewed but no action taken.
  • Master Licencing Services was approved (a service that makes sure all Ruston businesses are paying taxes to Ruston).
  • Civil service will conduct the oral board exam of the police chief applicants tomorrow.
  • First reading for Point Ruston's shoreline permit application was held.

I'll get a copy of the information from tonight's meeting up later in the week. ~ Karen

Really? Really.

UPDATE @ 9:40 pm: This anonymous comment came in tonight explaining the difference in tax rates between Tacoma and Ruston. I'm not sure where its outlined in the ordinance, but it gives a reasonable explanation. I've asked for details from town officials and will post any explanation they provide. Here's tonight's comment:

I went down and read the resolution... it's bringing the tax rates in line with Tacoma. The Tacoma rates are a direct multiplier, and the Ruston rates are a multiplier of one percent. This had me VERY nervous. Based on my reading of the resolution they're going to be about the same as Tacoma.

I had some comments today on Ruston's proposed B&O tax increase (2 of which I lost, sorry). There was concern that the decimal point was off in Ruston's rates as listed. I double checked what was handed out at the last council meeting (December 1, 2008). I don't have access to a scanner in my hotel room in Arizona, so I can't provide as much detail as I'd like.

Ordinance 1274 will take effect 5 days after it is approved. A vote is scheduled at tonight's meeting. I can't attend, but I'll post the outcome as soon as I can. The ordinance reads exactly the same as what is currently on the books with these exceptions:
  • Section 5.01.010 reads: Purpose. It is the policy and intention of the Town of Ruston to impose upon businesses and occupations conducted in the Town a business and occupation tax, - deleting "which shall in each instance equal 10 percent of the amount payable by the taxpayer to the State of Washington under the State business and occupation tax" and adding " and, in imposing such tax, to ensure both adequate revenue for Town operations and fairness to taxpayers by setting rates commensurate with those imposed by surrounding communities and throughout the State."
  • And increasing the rate as previously listed. In each case, the gross value of products or gross proceeds of sales (not the profit) are to "be multiplied by the rate of __ " depending on which category of business.

One of the previous comments linked to Tacoma's B&O tax rate. The council has said repeatedly they want to make Ruston's rate comparable to Tacoma's. Here is how Ruston's new rates compare to Tacoma's current rates:

  • Extractor: Ruston 0.11 - Tacoma does not have this category
  • Manufacturer: Ruston 0.11 - Tacoma 0.0011
  • Wholesale Sales: Ruston, 0.102 - Tacoma 0.00102
  • Retail Sales: Ruston 0.153 - Tacoma 0.00153
  • Printing: Ruston 0.20 - Tacoma does not have this category
  • All others: Ruston o.20 - Tacoma 0.0040 (includes service businesses)
  • Tacoma also has a category for International Investment at a tax rate of 0.00275

It is possible there is something in how this tax is levied that moves the decimal point or that the Town has always charged a higher tax rate, but to a lay person like me it sure looks like Ruston will be the least likely place new businesses will want to set up shop from now on. This could have a negative impact on Point Ruston's retail center now planned inside the Ruston boundaries. Just my opinion, what's yours? ~ Karen

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who Will Be Police Chief?

Chief Reese sent this announcement out last week about a chance to mingle with the candidates for Ruston's next police chief. I hope to have the names and some background on the finalists Monday. Stop in to meet them in person Monday evening, enjoy some refreshments and be part of the action! ~ Karen

You are all invited to meet our three police chief candidates in an informal setting on Monday December 15th. Join us for coffee and cake from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM in the Council Meeting Room on the 2nd Floor of the School House above the Police Department. It’s your opportunity to meet the candidates and welcome them to the civil service, competitive process to become your next Chief of Police in the Town of Ruston. Each candidate is scheduled for their Oral Board Exam the following morning (December 16th).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

B&O Tax Increase

Speaking of businesses, Ruston is set to raise their B&O tax rate on Monday night. I didn't have time to scan the full ordinance, but the rate increases are:
  • Extractor: was 0.048, now 0.11
  • Manufacturer: was 0.048, now 0.11
  • Wholesale Sales: was 0.048, now 0.102
  • Retail Sales: was 0.047, now 0.153
  • Printing: was 0.15, now 0.20
  • All others: was 0.15, now 0.20

Most of Ruston's businesses are small, in-home enterprises. If you know anyone with a local businesses, please let them know Monday's council meeting will be their only time to address the council before they vote on this tax increase.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Businesses Give Back

Our local businesses give a great deal to our community. They are a vital part of the community fabric, bringing much more than jobs and taxes. They provide relationships and leadership, events and celebrations, stability and structure. We've seen all that in Ruston with our many small shops giving to this town year after year. Now its been confirmed in a broader study of the South Sound.

This press release came across my email from Pierce County. Read on ~ then stop by some of our local shops and say hello, build that positive relationship and watch our community grow.

Much is known about how large, national corporations practice corporate social responsibility, but there is little information about how business giving relates to the regional community. A study conducted by UW Tacoma Associate Professor Jill Purdy and former UWT Associate Professor Stern Neill (currently an instructor at Cal Poly) asked local businesses how they contribute to the community, where they volunteer time, what causes they give to, and at what levels they give. The study also sought to understand the reasons that they give.

Co-sponsored by UW Tacoma's Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility in the university's Milgard School of Business and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, Purdy and Neill designed the study to help them understand more about how businesses give back in South Puget Sound. They gathered data from 100 companies, representing a wide range of businesses from sole proprietorships to companies with 6,000 employees and in a number of different industries.

The study showed that the average local company donated more than 100 volunteer days to the community, and that two-thirds of their giving went to causes in the local community. Purdy and Neill will present their findings Dec. 16 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Philip Hall on the UW Tacoma campus. Anyone wishing to attend is requested to RSVP to clsr@u.washington.edu or 253-692-4883.

CONTACT: Beth Luce, Public Relations and Marketing, 253-692-4881

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How The Time Does Fly

I swear it was just yesterday that the little ghosts and goblins were scampering up and down Ruston's streets, full of candy and giggles. Then I blinked and it was time to cook the turkey and half a breath later it's time to hang the Christmas lights.

Police Chief Reese sent along these pictures from the Halloween extravaganza held at Town Hall this year. The fire department has traditionally handed out candy ~ and this year the event grew to an even bigger party. A great time was had by one and all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Successful Sales

Two local Ruston women held sales last weekend. Bev had a holiday bazaar at Ladies Work Out Express and Ginger Kryger's pottery studio sold soup bowls to benefit the hungry and local arts. It sounds like both events were a success:

Our vendors that were here last year said they thought it was better attended this year. We had a great time, everyone sold items, weather was great and we're looking forward to next year. ~ Bev

We had a fabulous turnout. I’m not sure how many visitors. The first two hours were really hectic; the pace slowed after that. We have collected $5500 to date. I have to do one more firing because I accidentally sold some bowls that were to have been saved for someone. That’s okay. I just received a request for another 25 bowls and another 60 are to go out to Longbranch for their Hunger Event. Many people donated money; it was so heartwarming. We will probably continue to have donations come in throughout December.

So many people from Ruston stopped by to visit, buy bowls and have some soup with us. I liked hearing “I’m your neighbor from a block away” (or two blocks, etc.). There were people from Covington, Longview, Burien, Gig Harbor, Browns Point, Federal Way, Carnation, Graham and of course Tacoma that we know of. I know that people from Lacey, Olympia , Lakewood , Steilacoom and Fox Island also participated. It’s amazing how people come together to help.

Lucy Davis and I (as well as my family) are exhausted, but totally exhilarated by the response. We do have another Ruston volunteer lined up to help make bowls next summer so we won’t have an October/November frenzy again.

Thanks to everyone and see you next year!

One Mudhen and the Mudchick
Ginger Kryger and Lucy Davis

Needed: $500,000 for 2009

At the last regular council meeting on December 3rd, town officials had a very compelling discussion of Ruston’s 2009 budget. Mayor Hopkins first week in office had him revise the budget down to the bare minimum. Even with deep cuts, Ruston’s 2009 projected revenue is $573,555 with expenses of $1,013,0789, about a $500,000 deficit.

In the mayor’s words, “We are struggling for answers to make sure that Ruston is viable moving forward (fiscally) and at the burn rate we have, I’ve calculated 5 years – at the very best we have 5 years.” He acknowledged that he and the council are facing some very tough decisions and need input from everyone.

The discussion was far ranging. Here is what I found interesting:

The mayor had not met with the town clerk yet. He wanted to hire an accountant to help him understand the budget as presented and suggest other ways the town might balance expenses and revenues; which Council Member Stebner supported. MRSC may be able to help as well.

The town attorney advised that the previous direction of the council prohibiting using the surplus property fund was only a “suggestion” and those funds could be used to balance the budget. No one wanted to do so, but agreed there is no choice.

Council Member Hunt presented a list of utility taxes that she suggested be imposed or raised on electricity, garbage, natural gas, cable TV, storm drains, telephone and sewer. She suggested a rate of 8% to 10% for each of these (about double or more of the current rate). She felt it was something that has to be done to survive. I’ve requested a copy of the specific proposal.

Hopkins proposed budget eliminates the full time police officer position and removed all police overtime. This is not realistic, but a place to start. Council Member Hedrick noted that 70% of the budget is salaries. If the town cuts the budget, that means they cut into employees. He felt Ruston could not tax and/or cut its way to a balanced budget, but the council could narrow the gap. Hopkins was to bring a new budget back to the council at their meeting last Monday, December 8th.

Feel free to send your ideas to Ruston’s elected officials (emails listed to the left on this page) or post a comment here. I’ll be sure and pass them along.

These are tough times for so many people. This struggle is not new to Ruston, although none of our current leaders even lived in town when the smelter shut down in 1985. Those were lean years, too. If we pull together, I know from experience we can survive and emerge from this challenge a better community.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas: Ruston-Style

A good time was had by one and all on Friday night as Ruston rang in the holiday season with a community Christmas tree lighting. Santa came to visit, one of the state's best young opera singers (Kat and friend Scott) warmed our souls with music and new mayor Bruce Hopkins encouraged everyone to shop local in support of Ruston's businesses.

Then everyone had the opportunity to follow Santa up to our local shops for hot cider and great gift ideas. If you missed the Business District open house, be sure and stop in before Christmas and pick up a gift or two.

Santa visits again at the old town hall (5117 N. Winnifred) with candy and photo opportunities on Saturday, December 20th at 12 noon. The fire department will bring him through town on the fire engine in style with lights and sirens. When you hear the sirens, wave to the jolly elf and head to town hall to say hi in person.