‘It’s Quite a Crisis’ – The City of Normandy Park is Rapidly Going Broke


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"A structural problem" – Normandy Park City Manager Doug Schulze.

by Ralph Nichols

Normandy Park, one of King County’s smallest suburban cities, is rapidly going broke.

City Manager Doug Schulze terms the city’s looming financial crisis “a structural problem.”

This, he said, is “directly related to the fact that as a mostly residential community, we don’t bring in the amount of money needed to support the core services that we deliver.”

Looking for solutions, some city council members are now casting a covetous eye on Burien’s Manhattan neighborhood.

If Normandy Park could annex this area – with its commercial strip along the east side of 1st Ave. S. – the city would gain badly needed revenue from business and sales taxes.

“It’s a tricky proposal,” Mayor Clarke Brandt told The B-Town Blog this week, allowing that it’s questionable whether the proposal will “reach the table.”

While this is “very preliminary,” Brandt said Normandy Park separated the Manhattan area “when we annexed the west side … it’s ripe for discussion.”

He described the Manhattan area as “kind of an orphan” for Burien. “Burien’s efforts will be on Town Center and annexation” of North Highline….

“I would welcome it. The tax revenues generated would be enough to allow us to hire a new police officer,” he said.

For Normandy Park to do this, however, Burien would first have to de-annex the Manhattan area within its city limits – and Burien is unlikely to cede this tax-producing commercial strip.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and Normandy Park is approaching the brink.

Spending Reserves, Seeking Solutions
The situation “is not dire yet,” Brandt said, “but it will become dire if we don’t make changes. We have resources. In fact we’ve been spending our resources for years.”

These “resources,” said Schulze, are the city’s dwindling reserves – which will be exhausted in an estimated three years if new revenue sources aren’t found, or additional spending cuts are made.

Additional possibilities from a list of more than 20 options the Normandy Park City Council is studying include:

  • Asking local voters to approve a property tax levy lid lift.
  • Establishing a Transportation Benefit District with a $20 per vehicle license tab fee.
  • Imposing new local taxes including a business and occupation tax and a 6 percent utility tax on storm water fees.
  • Completing redevelopment of the Manhattan Village area.
  • Withdrawing from King County Fire District 2 (Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department) and contracting for firefighting services to free local property tax revenue.
  • Withdrawing from the King County Library District, also to free local property tax revenue.
  • Sharing a public works director 80/20 with SeaTac.
  • Contracting with the City of Des Moines for animal control and code enforcement services.

“If we want to get back to where we were before the downturn in 2008, we need $1.2 million [in new revenue] to get up to the moderate level of service we had in 2008,” Brandt said.

Property Tax Levy Lid Lift
A property tax levy lid lift would generate $300,000,” he noted. “I’m confident the voters of the City of Normandy Park will go for it when they find out where we are….

“In public safety, we’re already two police officers short. We just can’t keep on operating short and shorter.”

The city council can impose a Transportation Benefit District vehicle tab fee of no more than $20 without voter approval.

And a business and occupation tax may be an attractive option for generating limited additional revenue since, Schulze noted, Normandy Park is the only city in South King County without it.

Despite its obvious benefits, advancing the Manhattan Village project presents a Catch-22, however, since the city is currently without a public works/community development director.

Another priority vacancy is a Public Works Department maintenance worker.

Remaining priorities for increasing staff “depending on the economy and city projects” are an entry level planner, a receptionist/clerk who can support the Finance Department, and an assistant police chief.

This according to the minutes of a special April 24 council study session to review the city’s financial situation and consider possible solutions, which also indicate a council goal “to maintain a comfortable staffing level” of 30 full-time equivalent city employees.

“It’s quite a crisis" – Councilmember Marion Yoshino.

“Quite a Crisis”
“It’s quite a crisis,” agreed Normandy Park City Councilwoman Marion Yoshino. “I don’t think that people are quite aware of it.

“Two years ago we laid off our Parks and Recreation director and our Community Development director. Then we had one person in charge of public works and community development and part parks and rec, and we had to lay him off as of January.

“We also lost our city hall receptionist as of eight months ago,” Yoshino continued. “And we might have to lay off our only planner as of next Jan. 1. We’re down to less than nothing. It’s really bad.”

While contracting for police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office, as do Burien and SeaTac, she said “we get a lot of good, real quality police attention for what we pay” for the city’s own department.

“We spend about $90,000 per officer,” which Yoshino said is about half per officer compared to what contract cities pay the sheriff’s office.

Normandy Park is the smallest Highline-area city with a 2010 population of 6,335 occupying just 2.5 square miles of land. Primarily a residential community, the city is considered somewhat upscale with a per capita income that ranks 26th in the state.

Since 1999, however, local governments have seen declining tax revenues – and residential communities with small commercial districts have been hit especially hard.

Financial Needs Analysis
“The City of Normandy Park has experienced consistent and severe financial declines during the past 10 years,” notes a Financial Needs Analysis prepared for the April 24 meeting.

“Specifically, lost revenues due to voter-approved initiatives and declining revenues associated with the Great Recession have had significant adverse impacts on the City budget. Since 2009, the City has been forced to reduce spending through a variety of methods, including layoffs, spending cuts, and unfilled staff positions.

“In addition,” this analysis continues, “City reserves have been spent down to the minimum necessary. In 2012, additional cuts of $300,000 to $400,000 were required to avoid reducing reserve funds to a dangerous level.”

In the absence of new revenue, perhaps coupled with still more spending cuts, Normandy Park’s general fund would begin to run year-end deficit balances by 2015, according to the city’s six-year forecast.

State law prohibits cities from ending the year with a financial deficit.

Sustainability Options
Long-term “sustainability options” for Normandy Park’s economy, Schulze said, include “filling up Towne Center” and completing redevelopment of the Manhattan Village subarea.

Manhattan Village is “under developed, but there are ‘opportunity sites’ there that with the right incentives and redevelopment plan in place we could see some new business come in,” including commercial buildings and multi-use buildings with ground-floor retail and multi-family housing units above.

The city could encourage higher densities there that, in turn, would generate higher rents,” he added.

Schulze noted that developer Tom O’Keefe, who acquired Normandy Park Towne Center in early 2011, “is offering great incentives for new tenants,” but this is progressing slowly in the slow economic recovery.

Reduced City Revenues
Everyone interviewed agrees that Normandy Park’s financial difficulties began in 1999 when voters statewide approved Initiative 495, which limited vehicle tab fees for the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax to $30 a year.

That, said Schulze, essentially eliminated the state sales tax equalization fund that distributed revenue to cities with a limited sales tax base.

Next came I-747, also approved by voters statewide, which limits annual property tax increases by local governments and special purpose districts, such as school and fire districts, to 1 percent or the rate of inflation – whichever is less.

“Until then,” he added, “we had the authority to levy a 3 percent property tax increase annually. Normandy Park could provide services with a little sales tax base.

“But the loss of both” – sales tax equalization revenue and annual 3 percent property tax increases – “is costing us $1.5 million a year.”

Then came the recession in 2008, which not only reduced already limited local sales tax receipts but also brought down property values in this predominantly residential community.

“There’s no question we need to do as much as we can immediately,” Schulze said. “The council hasn’t decided what to do yet. It will require some out-of-the-box thinking, some radical ideas.”

“We’ve got a lot on our plate right now,” Brandt concluded.

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Comments

40 Responses to “‘It’s Quite a Crisis’ – The City of Normandy Park is Rapidly Going Broke”
  1. Joey Martinez says:

    This could be one way for anti-annexation folk to get me out of the picture… and I’d vote HELL no to this proposal!!! 😀

    Joey Martinez

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    • SD says:

      What picture are you referring to?

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      • Joey Martinez says:

        If my area of Burien were to be annexed into Normandy Park (the article mentions the Manhatton area being transfered) I would no longer be a Burien resident or have standing to speak on Burien issues.

        IF…

        Joey Martinez

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    • Eaton B. Verz says:

      But Joey, just think of all the good you could do for NP!!! They need your help!

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  2. Whooda Thunk says:

    Let’s sickthe Messiah of White Center Jerry Robison on this. Not enough that he’s on a mission to screw up Burien and White Center, lets add Normandy Park to the mix.

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  3. Love Seahurst says:

    Why don’t they start with an independent auditor coming in and seeing where all the money has been going? Then decide where cuts should be made after some public disclosure!

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  4. TcB says:

    Remember the talk of Shorewood/Three Tree Point/Seahurst wanting to bolt and join Normandy Park since it was so well run?

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  5. MisterAccountability says:

    Love Seahurst,

    Click on this link and type in ‘Normandy Park’ and it will take you to links to all of the recent audits of the City of Normandy Park conducted by the independent State Auditor’s Office:

    http://www.sao.wa.gov/EN/Audits/Pages/Search/AuditReportSearch.aspx

    It took me one quick google search to find. Our state requires independent financial audits of local governments. They are all available online to the public.

    Also, the City of Normandy Park’s budget is public, debated and reviewed in open public meetings, and available for review anytime.

    I’m fine with people debating which local services should be cut versus taxes/fees raised, but I think we should have an honest debate about our options rather than making inaccurate rhetorical criticisms that simply poison the environment in which we come together as a community to work through these real (and difficult) challenges.

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    • Chris says:

      You’re spot on. All governments are routinely audited. Results are easy to come by.

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    • john poitras says:

      I am not accusing anyone in Normandy Park of abusing funds but lets set the record straight on State audits of cities.. Its like birds of a feather nest together and the audit process used by the state takes a LOT of data on trust .

      An INDEPENDENT audit is a totally different animal and is MUCH MORE thorough. Many controls and expenditures are in fact audited examined and analyzed rather than taking the data on trust that they are in compliance with sound fiscal policies.

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      • Chris says:

        Your’re wrong about the state audits. They can (and have been) be very comprehensive and the are extremely stringent with most agencies. After some very high profile fraud instances, and some mismanagement of public funds, the have been WAY more strict during audits.

        Now, if it’s a financial analysis you’re after, making planning for future budgets, etc., then a private firm is the answer. Perhaps Berk and Associates? Lol….

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        • William Forest says:

          Chris LOL Berk associates would not be my first pick that’s for sure. LMAO

          Just my two bits on financial audits.
          I agree that state audits are usually stringent and thorough. I actually spent the time going thru the last state audit of Burien and I won’t bore you with the details of what I found however, long story short is that waste can be hidden in what they don’t audit and what they disclaim in the mission statement that is excluded from the actual audit In many areas the data they use is taken on faith as reported by the city and that’s where there is a lot of wiggle room for wasting money. State audits can and will catch blatant fraud within the broad outline of the audit. However many sound business practices like detailed general fund analysis, outstanding purchase order commitments beyond the time horizon of the audit, the requirement of multiple bids and contractual analysis, potential conflict of interests, quid pro quo disclosure, value investment practices and efficiency of scale etc. are not audited. An actual financial analysis of how the money is spent, the value rec’d from the expenditures and whether it complied with accepted private business practices like an ISO 9000 audit except for a city rather than a private firm could reveal a lot of potential savings that a state audit will not.

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  6. NP Resident says:

    Then can someone help me to understand why we are letting this private run group home scenero move into NP with a bunch of crazy people that will only dwindle our budget even more with all of the calls for suicide attempts etc? Why doesn’t the city hold a large auction? The guy that owns the DQ building should have never let DQ leave. That must have helped at some. It would be really nice if we had a burger joint or two in NP. I also think that someone needs to talk to the company that mows our parks and talk them down on their price. Its a different economy now days, perhaps we need to have those jobs rebid and a contract to lock in a cheaper company for a few years? Just some ideas for you. I have often thought of opening a burger joint here but not sure with the rent prices that it would be a wise decision.

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    • Joey Martinez says:

      As a Burien Planning commissioner (I am speaking as myself without commission or city authorization) I’ve come to learn that a City is legally prevented from controlling group homes and similar facilites. As long as the use fits the pre-existing zoning it is allowed. Cities have been regularly sued from limiting mental housing. Any change in the zoning adversly affecting a group home is open to litigation and penalties.

      The best you can do on that is bring non-govt public pressure on the home.

      Joey Martinez

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    • mike says:

      I know, hire the illegals down at the Home Depot. They’ll mow for a couple bucks and some MD 20/20. That’ll get the wages down to Walmart level.

      Also, its better to have the “crazies” in NP rather than Area Y.

      These are some things the pro-annexation people should take a LOOONG hard look at.

      This whole annexation thing is shaping up to be just a hoot!

      Area Y Mike

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  7. Joey Martinez says:

    OK, one more thing…

    I would agree that the South Burien businesses are kind of orphans primarily serving Normandy Park residents.

    That is why at the last BEDP (Burien Business Economic Program) I spoke about trying to bring them “into Burien” and helping them out and promoting the area while the Normandy Park side struggles.

    I have felt that the way a city sustains itself is by getting their own residents to spend in their city. The way you grow a city is to get other cities residents to spend in your city.

    Joey Martinez

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    • TROFWA says:

      Joey, why would the business want to go to Burien when they can Operate in Normandy Park and skip having B&O taxes collected on them?

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  8. Maria Wheel says:

    I have heard we have purchased a back hoe for $ 80,000. Was that really necessary? Last time we needed to use one in our yard, we paid daily fee of $ 125.Just saying, sometimes renting is more feasible than buying.

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  9. Chris says:

    From a purely anecdotal standoint, I’ve always felt that cities need to be a certain size to remain sustainable. A city like NP has to run a VERY lean and efficient operation to make ends meet. For the most part, they’ve been able to do that for many years. But it now seems that they’re continually going to be limited in the amount of revenue they bring in. Their revenue is mostly levied from residential property. Without the proper commercial tax revenue (which has historically been the case), it’s hard to make it when residential values go down.

    I suspect NP will have to take a hard, long look at whether or not they want to continue as an incorporated city (an option that wasn’t discussed in the article). This has happened in other cities in the country as they too struggle to make ends meet. Also, there have been smaller cities that have joined to together to form larger, more sustainable cities.

    One thing about the de-annexation of the Manhattan neighborhood–is well–that it’ll most likely never happen. If my history is correct, this area was NOT originally part of the incorporation of Burien in 1995, and that this area petitioned to be a part of Burien a couple of years later. With that, it seems unlikely that these residents would vote to leave Burien, nor would the City of Burien stand idly by and allow this to happen. Contrary to what people think about Burien (good or bad), Burien offers many more services than NP.

    Regarding the de-annexation of King County FIre District 2’s boundaries from NP’s–again this will likely not happen. If that did happen, then the fire dept. would no longer levy taxes directly from property owners, and would then have NP serving as a “middle-man” who would then enter into a negotiation with the fire department for a contract for services. This would most likely result in a fight as NP would attempt to low-ball the fire department on the contract for services, due to them wanting to have more overall funding for general city operations. It’s likely that the fire department will lobby hard against the mere notion of a de-annexation of the boundaries.

    My personal opinion is that NP should try and maintain their incorporation as a city, with the understanding that they’ll have to essentially contract for all services with neighboring cities and/or private contractors (like for parks maintenance, etc.) I believe NP already contracts with Burien for all building inspection and plans review. There’s no reason that they couldn’t establish more of these types of relationships with other services, such as police, public works, etc.

    As far as police services goes, this is a bit of tricky situation. On one hand, it’s nice to have your own “boutique” police department, where they provide fairly good personal community policing. With that though, they have to arrange for all the “other” stuff that a police department needs to provide, such as investigative services, forensics, courts, jails, etc. Not sure how much these types of arrangements costs or exactly how it works for a department their size. On the other hand, they could contract for police services with KCSO or Des Moines. With KCSO, they get the economies of scale of being served by a large department. Like other cities in King County who contract for police services, NP would reap all of the “other” stuff that the KCSO provides, like major crimes investigation and all the other specialized services that KCSO provides. As a contract city, you get to take advantage of all the specials services. This may explain why the per officer cost is more with KCSO.

    Regarding a levy lid lift, I”m not sure this would be all that great, considering property values are down.

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  10. TcB says:

    Can we all stop saying NP? Let’s call it Normandy Park. It’s not that hard.

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  11. Uh oh says:

    Joey, I’m glad u think that people would rather shop in burien than Normandy park. The truth is they wouldn’t. Glad to see u are on the burien planning commission now. U must have kissed the right ass. Or could it be that as soon as mike Martin found out that u were pro annexation he found yet another place for another yes man at burien city hall. With folks like u burien will not be that much further behind Normandy park.

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    • Chris says:

      Nice attack bro. BTB, can you moderate this guy off the thread. This is ridiculous.

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    • Terry says:

      I find the previous comment offensive and incivil.

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      • Rob says:

        Ditto.

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        • raquel davis says:

          While the response is personal, does it really rise to offensive? People do have freedom of speech you know and are entitled to their own opinions. I’m anti-annexation and would much rather shop in Des Moines than North Highline. I suppose I should be moderated off?

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    • William Forest says:

      The sad truth is you hit the nail on the head Uh oh. I personally have nothing against Joey but the nepotism and cronyism in Burien with Mike Martin as the godfather in Burien is no secret and I personally find it abhorrent to democratic governance.

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  12. TROFWA says:

    Normandy Park, the City that does NOT collect B&O taxes, and they are screaming their broke. Normandy Park has stated it’ll cost money to collect those taxes.

    How many of us work a full 40 hour week but don’t bother to pick up your paycheck? Who cares right? It’ll cost money to go and pick up that paycheck.

    Doug Schulze bad for Medina, (there were Medina City council votes to dump him before he resigned) and now Normandy Park has the privilege of his Mis-Guidance.

    We of Normandy Park have several businesses in Normandy Park, several good sized ones too, QFC, Dunns, etc. And no one is collecting B&O taxes. The city council can whine AFTER they do their part to make money for the City. LIKE COLLECT TAXES!!! Any position cut from the city staff should fight back because it is incompetence that they lost their position, it is incompetence that the city is NOT collecting a source of revenue and instead laying people off.

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  13. Manhattan resident says:

    Joey If you love white center so much why don’t you move there and get out of my neighborhood ?

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  14. Wondering says:

    i THINK NORMANDY PARK NEEDS TO PETITION TO BE ANNEX TO ITS RICH NEIGHBOR TO THE NORTH – BURIEN

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  15. K says:

    It’s un-believable that it’s taken how many years for Normandy Park to figure out that without a retail base in the city, that it is difficult to balance a city budget. I don’t think the city or community has had a clue how to be run as a legitimate city since it was established.
    Nice, very upper middle class exclusive neighborhood, we’ve always wondered how much longer the city could survive being so exclusive –

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    • Elizabeth says:

      Actually, having lived both in Normandy Park and Burien all my life, I think you are giving them a hard rap “K.” Things have changed in the last decade and it has only been since then that they and many other smaller communities have had a difficult time.

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  16. David A. Kaempf says:

    Hello!

    FYI: The City of Normandy Park has sent out an email to residents who have signed up for their alert service. The email has 102 pp of financial information in preparation for the next city council meeting. I encourage citizens to read it and maybe get involved.

    Also, concerned local citizens have organized a Facebook page, Normandy Park Cares, in relation to a separate but related matter. Again, I encourage Normandy Park citizens to get involved!

    Ciao! david

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  17. Skeptical says:

    The real question is how much has the NP city council wasted on their pet environmental projects like the Beaconsfield project and the related lawsuits.

    It might seem like “the cost of latte per resident,” but over time it’s the difference between solvency and what they’ve gotten us.

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  18. lucsea says:

    Sadly part of the problem is the greediness of the guy who owns all the buildings in the area. The main reason why the DQ shut down is because he wanted over 4,000 a month for renting the space. He wasnt even compliant with the leasing contract with the former owners of the DQ. I’m sure thats why we lost manhattan drug and no business since has been able to thrive there. A new pharmacy is moving in …lets hope that one lasts.

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  19. Lisa Schulze says:

    While I may be late to the party to comment on this one, I cannot stop myself. If someone or something is going to be moderated off this thread it should be the comments referring to people that suffer from mental illness as “crazy people” or the “crazies”. While “freedom of speech” may tolerate this kind of ignorance and discrimination, we as human beings should not. Statistically, one in four people suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. Even the elite of NP are not exempt from this. The FB page NP Cares blocked me for sharing this opinion. Hopefully my comment will be able to stay here. Some if us in Normandy Park really do care about something other than ourselves!

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  20. Time to come clean says:

    I know lets have Burien leave us alone in area Y and go over to Normandy Park and spread there lies about annexation!
    Come clean Mike time to pay the piper
    Mike Martin’s Record:
    2005 hit and run; resigned as Chief Admin Officer City of Kent
    2009 charged w/DUI on 4/19/09 after driving into a yard & hitting a ceramic pot. Granted deferred prosecution in June 2009.

    What you can expect from Martin’s Annexation:

    Increased taxes & fees:
    $10 license tab fee
    $90 per household tax increase
    $90 Business license fee
    $125 B&O Tax
    $500,000 for cost over runs on Ambaum overlay project due to Martin’s mismanagement, passed on to tax payers
    $2,750,000 from Martin’s mismanagement of road and infrastructure project on the 1st Ave. project, also passed on to tax payers
    $77,000,000 in increased taxes to provide infrastructure upgrades in Area Y which Burien has no way to pay for

    What you can expect NOT to get from Martin’s Annexation:

    We Will Not Get:
    $5,000,000 per year: This will only happen if the sales taxes collected from Area Y meets the proper criteria.
    (Area X was annexed in 2010, and in 2011, Burien received $514,635 in sales tax credit money, not the $5mil Martin brags about)
    More police for Area Y. Seattle figured 15 officers, Burien figures 3
    Quality animal control. Martin decided to go with a cheap alternative called CARES instead of King County Animal Control. Expect higher taxes to get KCAC if annexed.
    Lower utility costs. City Light will add a surcharge to the bills for Area Y for the street light and traffic signal upgrades on 1st Ave in Burien.
    Government Transparency
    Oh and there is alot more to come lots of skelis hiding in those closets over there!!!!

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  21. Terri says:

    I live across the street from Normandy Park – but spend most of my grocery $$ at Manhattan Village. Since I am a Burien Citizen I would not support giving up any of our tax base to Normandy Park – we’re going to go broke over the annexation of White Center – we need all the money we can get.

    I would highly recommend working with Dick Spady to get a Dick’s located in somewhere near Manhattan Village – I’d say the old Dairy Queen location – but that would interfere with parking for QFC & Starbucks patrons… maybe in one of the developments just north of there .It worked for the mayor of Edmonds it could work for Normandy Park… he did say the next Dick’s would be located on the southend.

    If the citizens of Normandy Park can’t anti up the small amount of money to keep yourselves afloat – let Burien annex you.

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  22. Fred says:

    Oh – here’s a thought: Instead of reducing quality city services by laying off police (and other vital employees) – how about adding traffic control officers to cite the increased number of speeders in the area? This would both enhance the safety and desirability of Normandy Park and provide much needed revenue. Surprised this wasn’t even apparently on the political brain trust’s agenda for discussion.

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