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The first phase of work on transforming the vacant field next to Liberty Lake Elementary School into ball fields will take shape after a contract is awarded at the Sept. 17 meeting. The City Council plans to keep discussion about the site on its radar, listing the project as one of three official priorities for 2014.

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Council votes to formalize trio of 2014 priorities
8/29/2013 8:58:39 AM

By Craig Howard
Splash Contributor

It's official - the Liberty Lake City Council will not retreat from a list of established priorities for 2014.

While extended gatherings of the city's governing board have been part of the municipal calendar going back to the early years after incorporation, council retreats have typically not been followed by a formal motion formalizing the discussion and corresponding goals.

That changed on Aug. 20.

In a unanimous vote, the City Council passed a resolution confirming the top three topics of emphasis for next year based on the retreat that took place on Aug. 11. The trio includes: 

1. Finalizing a plan for the eastern portion of the Liberty Lake Ball Fields.

2. Identifying a strategy to develop two acres in the center of town set aside for a town square.

3. Facilitating funds for a street maintenance program based largely on utility tax revenue. 

The street maintenance conversation will also include an evaluation of options to shift the percentage of tax now charged for various utilities. 

A look back and ahead at business conducted by the
LL City Council

By Craig Howard
Splash Contributor

Representatives of the City Council met at City Hall for a retreat on Aug. 11. The four-hour meeting was facilitated by Mike Kennedy and included Mayor Steve Peterson and City Administrator Katy Allen in attendance. 

At the council meeting on Aug. 20, the governing board unanimously approved a resolution confirming the three top municipal priorities for 2014 as discussed at the retreat. The priorities include: reaching a consensus on a development strategy for the eastern portion of the Liberty Lake Ball Fields; confirming a plan for the two-acre plot along Meadowwood Lane that has been discussed as the potential site of a town square; and allotting revenue for the street maintenance fund  based on  proceeds from the city's utility tax.  For more on this, see the accompanying story.

A number of city-sponsored capital projects broke ground in August, including the Sprague Avenue Trail, Harvard Road Roundabout, Fallen Heroes Circuit Course and an upgrade of Valleyway and Mission roads. 

The city's crew of grazing goats began their last tour of greenspace duty for this year on Aug. 27 at Rocky Hill Park. 

The council meeting originally scheduled for Sept. 3 has been cancelled due to a light agenda and proximity to Labor Day. Council will meet instead on Sept. 10 for a workshop discussion at 7 p.m. on the utility tax, its correlation to the street maintenance fund and the possibility of shifting the rate charged to respective utilities. 

The Liberty Lake Salary Commission will hold a public hearing Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Liberty Lake City Hall. The hearing will provide an opportunity for public comment on the topic of salaries and salary schedules for the city's elected officials. 

Council will discuss an interlocal agreement with Spokane County over the Aquifer Protection Area at its Sept. 17 meeting. 

Also on Sept. 17, council will address development code updates as proposed by the planning commission.  Street trees and campus monument signs are expected to be among the topics.   
"If we don't formalize this by resolution, it just becomes part of the minutes," said City Administrator Katy Allen, when giving her reasons for putting the priorities up for a vote. "This is about what we want to work on as we put together a budget for next year."

Before the vote was called, several council members emphasized that the resolution would not include official decisions on funding let alone moving forward with any project - or, in the words of Council Member Dan Dunne, "this is not shoveling dirt."  

"There are still some concerns," said Council Member Cris Kaminskas. "This is just about getting the information." 

Council Member Keith Kopelson went one step further, proposing that a separate workshop discussion be held to address potential changes to the utility tax. His colleagues agreed, voting to include an amendment on the workshop, now scheduled for Sept. 10. 

Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford said he, for one, will need more details on expenditures related to the town square project that could include everything from basic upgrades like a parking lot and street improvements to amenities such as an amphitheater and decorative fountain.

"I won't be in favor of moving forward on the two acres until we know what's going to be there in the future," Langford said. 

On the street maintenance front, the city has targeted a budget of $815,000 for next year, with $662,000 generated through the utility tax. Allen recommended that council use the baseline of $662,000 when deliberating on potential shifts to the percentage collected from cable, gas, garbage, phone and electric bills - all currently taxed at a rate of 3 percent. 

There has been talk of reducing the percentage on gas and electric, based largely on feedback from the local business community, although on Aug. 20, Langford urged council to proceed with caution, saying he would be opposed "to assigning an extra burden on everyday citizens in favor of one or two businesses." 

Allen said the average Liberty Lake home currently pays around $100 in utility taxes each year. Council Member Lori Olander pointed out that the growth of the city - the official population now stands at 8,190 - translates into a broader tax base and added rationale to decrease the rate.    

"What we really want to do is scrutinize the utility tax based on growth and see if we can get close to the $662,000 with some kind of percentage change," Allen said. 

In other city news:

Allen reported that representatives of the business community affected by the roundabout project met with city officials as the work was beginning last month to discuss methods of minimizing the impact on customer traffic. The city posted message signs letting motorists know that businesses in the area are open.

Andrew Finneman addressed council during the public comments portion of the Aug. 20 meeting, expressing concern over stray golf balls from the first tee at the Trailhead at Liberty Lake Golf Course. Finneman said he was nearly struck by a golf ball earlier this month when walking down the trail between the course and Liberty Lake Road. He recommended that the city consider raising the height of the fence to protect against potential incidents.

Allen related that Arlene Fisher, former Liberty Lake city clerk and finance director, was honored with the prestigious "Award of Excellence" by the Association of Washington Cities this month. Fisher currently works as city administrator in Cheney.