Council Roundup: December 21, 2020

Severe Weather Shelter, Utility Tax, Rental Housing Inspection Program, Elected Officials and Social Media, Sea-Tac Airport Community Concerns
Posted on 01/04/2021
Icicles hanging from building.

Council heard updates on planning for severe weather shelter in Burien and discussed the implementation of a new utility tax and low-income relief program, the launch of the Rental Housing Inspection program in January, addressing community concerns with Sea-Tac Airport operations, and new records retention policies for elected officials’ social media accounts.

Burien Prepares to Open a Severe Weather Shelter

Staff presented an update regarding plans to open a severe weather shelter in Burien. The City identified Highline United Methodist Church (HUMC) as a potential site. After a follow-up walkthrough visit of the site, Public Health – Seattle & King County concluded that HUMC had designed their space to allow for adequate social distancing for all guests, had purchased sufficient PPE and supplies, and developed protocols for various scenarios and space usage. HUMC staff, as well as a pool of volunteers, have been designated and will soon receive training.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott set aside $22,700 in grant funding that may be used should the shelter need to open.

The shelter should be able to serve an estimated 40 individuals per night. Preliminary discussions indicate the shelter may open if temperatures do not exceed 32 degrees for longer than 48 hours, however HUMC may choose to lower that threshold to 24 hours. Staff is not aware of any other cities in south King County that are as far along as Burien is with its severe weather shelter planning, but shelters will coordinate openings, closings, and protocols should others eventually be stood up.

Utility manhole cover.

Utility Tax Relief Program Launches Early 2021

Council acknowledged receiving emails from constituents concerned with the approval of a new utility tax and discussed whether to postpone the implementation of the tax until the implementation of the new Burien Utility Tax Relief Program, which is set to launch in January.

City Manager Brian J. Wilson indicated that repealing the tax increase–meant to help make up for the loss of the $1 million annexation sales tax credit–would result in a loss of $1.3 million annually, meaning even more staff and programs would need to be cut. City Attorney Garmon Newsom II noted that some water and sewer districts may have misled customers regarding the new tax rate. Additionally, with respect to using Burien’s reserves, the city attorney noted that depleting Burien financial reserves could affect Burien’s credit rating and its ability to borrow in the future.

Council concluded the discussion by directing staff to provide an update on the implementation of the Utility Tax Relief Program at the January 25, 2021 study session.


Rental Housing Inspection Program Launches January 1

Lori Fleming, the Burien Rental Housing Inspection Program Coordinator presented an update on the Rental Housing Inspection Program, set to launch on January 1, 2021. The program was established to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of tenants by encouraging the proper maintenance of rental housing by identifying and requiring correction of substandard housing conditions. By establishing this program, Burien intends to prevent conditions of deterioration and blight that would adversely impact the quality of life in the Burien.

Over 400 property owners received letters detailing new business license fees adopted by Council in November. Single-family residences, mobile homes, accessory dwelling units, condos, townhomes, short-term rentals, shelters, and government managed units were exempted. These fees help pay for the Rental Housing Inspection Coordinator and related resources.

An inspection program for properties required to have a Rental Housing Business License will begin January 1, 2021. Burien has been divided into three zones, and each property owner must complete their inspection by the deadline imposed by the applicable zone. To comply with the new requirements, they must choose an inspector off the City’s roster and schedule a time for them to come out and inspect 20 percent of their units. If the inspection fails, property owners must fix the issues and be re-inspected. Once they pass the inspection, the inspector sends the inspection checklist to the City and if satisfactory, the City issues the property owner a certificate of inspection.

City Attorney Garmon Newsom II indicated that state-imposed licensing requirements restrict the City’s ability to exempt certain property owners from the state business license fee, but the City can evaluate individual property owners’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Property owners did not pay business license fees in 2020.

Social Media and Elected Officials

City Attorney Garmon Newsom II briefed Council on how staff will manage social media, moving forward. He explained that the City will no longer retain social media records unrelated to City business and that the only accounts that are officially used to conduct City business are the ones run by City staff. Additionally, if any Councilmember chooses to maintain a social media page or profile related to their role as a Councilmember, they should not use it to conduct business and therefore will be responsible for producing any records that may be requested through the Public Records Act.

Airplane flying over building.

Addressing Community Concerns Through Seattle-Tacoma Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table

On September 21, Council directed the City Manager to re-engage with the Seattle-Tacoma Airport Stakeholder Advisory Round Table (StART) on behalf of the City to continue efforts to address the 13 points of concern identified by the Joint Aviation Committee and to advocate on behalf of Burien to address noise, environmental, health, equity, and economic concerns as a result of Sea-Tac Airport's operations.

The City Manager brought together representatives from the six member cities as well as representatives from Port of Seattle for a meeting on December 1 where multiple operational changes were tentatively agreed to. A final proposal is forthcoming. The changes include formalizing a relationship with the Highline Forum as a policymaking group, establishing and setting rules for a steering committee, and creating a code of conduct. Additionally, the representatives have previously agreed to establishing workgroups to address issues of importance to impacted communities, encouraging active participation by community representatives from each city involved, and allowing Highline Forum representatives to convey policy direction regarding StART to member city councils and boards before final adoption.

These proposed changes to StART and the Highline Forum will ensure representation, effective operating rules, and focus on outcomes and policy development to address community concerns. Enhanced participation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airline representatives will provide the opportunity for improved relationships and opportunities to collaborate and address noise, health, environmental, and policy concerns important to communities.

The 2021 StART Federal Policy Advocacy meetings between U.S. Representatives (Rep. Adam Smith and Rep. Pramila Jayapal) and representatives from the Port and the airport cities are being scheduled to advocate for additional policies to help address aircraft noise and emissions issues. Councilmembers expressed interest in attending.

Concern was expressed that a letter to the FAA regarding 250-degree heading turns over Burien by turboprop airplanes was missing from the agenda. Four members of the Burien Airport Committee resigned during the council meeting.

Council Supports National Pilot Program on Portable Worker Benefits

Councilmember Kevin Schilling has been invited to participate in a cohort of five other city councilmembers from across the country in the National League of Cities’ Future of Work and Workers Program to explore programs that allow workers to earn and retain portable benefits.

A proposed project plan to guide policy changes is expected to be completed by June 2021.