October 4, 2012

By Contributor

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To merge or not to merge, that is the question

Last month, the City Council discussed potential consolidation with Bellevue. Why now, after 18 years as a city? Simply put, the math has changed, threatening Newcastle’s long-term survival as a standalone city.

I’ll state my bias upfront: My city should have reasonable taxes, good services and facilities, and resources to fund future capital projects. On these criteria, Newcastle’s future compares very unfavorably with Bellevue’s.

The problem: In Washington state, cities are financed primarily with property and sales taxes.  Without either a large commercial tax base generating property and retail sales taxes, or exclusively high-end housing, it is very difficult for a small city to prosper over the long term.

Newcastle’s predicament is not recently discovered. From the city’s inception, knowledgeable observers have warned that once the city exhausted its developable land base and the large city fees associated with development, infrastructure maintenance and personnel costs would rapidly outpace the revenue tax base.

With most of our land base now under development or developed, we have reached the tipping point. Beyond 2013, we face substantial deficits in our general and capital funds that will result in service reductions and eliminate any major new capital projects. Newcastle faces a real risk of becoming a high-tax, low-services city, with negative consequences for our housing prices. Alarmingly, after 2013, the city manager is already proposing that we defer $2.4 million in necessary road maintenance to cover future capital shortfalls.

Given Newcastle’s financial prospects, why would Bellevue consider a consolidation?

The answer: Economies of scale make the math work. Bellevue already provides Newcastle with fire and emergency services, and could easily consolidate the remaining governmental functions at a much lower cost. Under Bellevue’s jurisdiction, Newcastle would maintain its neighborhood character and events, much like Newport Hills does.

Because the situation doesn’t become critical until 2014, the City Council majority believes further public discussion of the issue is not now warranted. I disagree. For a city trying to plan ahead, all options should now be explored and considered. Your voices deserved to be heard and made a part of the decision process.

Let the debate begin.

Bill Erxleben

Newcastle City Council

Solutions to budget shortfalls needed now

I find it somewhat ironic that the Rapid Responses (Sept. 7 issue) regarding annexation by Bellevue seemed to be mostly about emotional or personal issues (keeping our individuality, setting our own direction, something about a “higher mileage rate…”) yet in the same issue there was an explanation from the city manager about why we can’t manage traffic during a localized electricity problem because we have a “very streamlined budget” and an article about the city budget forecast “showing increasing deficits in the city’s general fund.”

The financial forecast was described as ominous. We have traffic backed up to Interstate 405 and only one officer was on duty, who was busy. The city manager also stated that it is “not possible to quickly get backup for something like traffic control.” Apparently, not more than one thing can happen at a time or police support will be overtaxed. Well, true, that one officer can’t be in two places at the same time no matter how good he or she is. Does this concern anybody else?

In the budget article, “City Council tackles expected revenue shortfall,” the idea of annexation by Bellevue was labeled as a distraction by the city manager and one of the council members. Seriously, it is a distraction? Councilman Bill Erxleben at least said it was the council’s duty to explore all options, plus one of the Rapid Responses said there should be a study. These ideas sound like due diligence to me.

I think this is the time and place for personal, emotional and vested interests to be put aside in the interest of the citizens of this city. There seemed to be a question as to whether or not the City Council “wants to even discuss annexation.” Seriously? Refer to Erxleben’s statement. When you have a budget shortfall and projected shortfalls in the forecasts, I think it is past time to look for solutions and the fiscally responsible thing to do.

Bill Juliano



Equal parks for all

Newcastle is updating its parks plan for grant applications. The plan establishes the level of service for parks based on park types and population. The present plan requires 5 acres of mini parks, 20 acres of neighborhood parks and 50 acres of community parks: 75 acres total, for today. The city has 22.6 acres of parks and owns 33.5 acres of undeveloped sports park land.

Since 2003, no new neighborhood parks and no new community parks (except upgrades to Lake Boren Park) have been developed. New mini parks have been built. Some have many amenities and some have few; and some are small and barely usable.

In the new plan, city staff proposed eliminating the requirement for mini parks and the Parks and Planning commissions concurred. New mini parks might be built, but they would not be required under the proposed new plan.

I want equal parks for all. No neighborhood should be stuck with a park that is a weed patch or have a park with more “bells and whistles” than others. To solve these discrepancies, the city should adopt park design guidelines so that all parks have appropriate and equal amenities. Should a neighborhood want enhanced amenities, those additional costs should be borne by the neighborhood; the city should not be stuck with special maintenance costs.

Seventy-five acres is the park land we should have today. By 2032, the projected need for 12,000 people is 90 acres. The city has inadequate plans to find and acquire new land and pay for neighborhood parks. The past 10 years’ experience proves this.  There are no 2-acre parcels around anymore. The city should reconsider the allocation of service and size of parks.

I like mini parks and want them in neighborhoods without parks. For Newcastle, neighborhood parks a half-mile away do not make sense for serving our small neighborhoods; nearby mini parks do.  Lake Boren Park should be our only large community park. And if Newcastle residents want a big sports park, separate funding should be found for its development and maintenance.

Carol Simpson


City of Newcastle

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