Blog module icon

A Note From Your Mayor


Jan 12

Recapping Highlights of 2020

Posted on January 12, 2021 at 3:42 PM by Joshua Stecker

Roughly a year ago, January 6, 2020 was the first day for our new City Administrator, Bob Larson. Bob came to us with over 20 years of experience and started right in with getting to know our personnel and their needs as well as the city’s.  We also welcomed new councilmembers Robyn Denson, Tracie Markley and Le Rodenberg, so several months were spent getting them all comfortable with our projects and work plan.

While the pandemic may have slowed the timeline on our planned capital projects in 2020, we nonetheless made significant progress in several areas. COVID-19 hit us hard and the state shut down the way we all normally operate. We found our citizens grasping for information and the need to connect our citizens, businesses, volunteer organizations and community together. We started a live Facebook dialog each week where I was able to inform everyone.  We were also able to let the groups communicate together in the comment page throughout the week and help one another. We were one of the first in the state to do this and we also had various speakers and on location videos with businesses to promote them. Through time we cut this down to every other week along with our weekly radio appearance and the Mayor’s Blog. This helped us be as transparent and informative as possible during a pandemic.

With the shutdown of in-person meetings, we quickly implemented virtual meeting procedures to allow city business to continue as efficiently as possible. In addition, the city was able to use CARES Act funding to distribute $308,000 in Small Business Stabilization Grants.

This year equal rights were on many people’s minds across the nation and our city showed support for all races, nationalities, and equal rights for all.  

There were two important studies underway in 2020 that are looking at the possibility of expanding the Tacoma Narrows Airport to have a longer runway that will allow commercial passenger airlines. The studies are being done by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) and the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC). Both studies have shown Tacoma Narrows as a site with the potential to expand. No decisions are coming soon, but it was important to be involved in the first steps of the planning process.  Council and I have told the representatives of both studies that we are not interested in having a commercial airport near Gig Harbor and the airport’s sponsor, Pierce County, has now informed them to take us off their list.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) was also conducting a study of new, potential passenger-only ferry service locations around Puget Sound. Gig Harbor was one of the locations under consideration by the study. The ferry style being considered was a 250-passenger ferry. We know that the ferry service would have to be greatly funded and subsidized by our city, thus our taxpayers. We are not excited to tax our citizens to fund this. Our primary concerns include parking, traffic and quality of life. We told them thank you but asked them to take us off their list.

Together with council we adopted a resolution that will permanently recognize October 12th as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the month of November as Native American Heritage Month here in the City of Gig Harbor. Each year during October and November, we will proudly display the flag of the Puyallup Nation in our Council Chambers.

We also formed an ad hoc committee made up of myself, councilmembers, residents, the Puyallup Tribe, and a Parks Commissioner to discuss restoring the original Native American name to an area in our harbor to honor the sxwebabc (sk-whuh-babsh) band of the Puyallup Tribe. Hopefully in 2021 we will see this happen as well as the dedication of an Honor Symbol at one of our parks. We will be talking about other ways to recognize and honor the first people who lived here as well.

Site preparation work has been completed on our new operations shop. Our Public Works crews have long needed a new home; design and permitting on the Operations Center will proceed in 2021.

Progress was made in 2020 on design and permitting for a number of street-related projects; work is underway on the 38th Avenue improvements, Stinson Avenue pavement overlay and pedestrian improvements, Stinson/Harborview roundabout and improvements, Stinson/Rosedale roundabout, and the Burnham/Harborview roadway improvements. Construction on these projects is projected to proceed in 2021.

Significant public input was received and progress was made on the conceptual design for sewer lift station #6 located at the intersection of Ryan Street and Cascade Avenue.  The public provided vocal input and the City responded by reconsidering options for the design of the lift station to better meet the desires of the neighborhood while still providing a functional lift station.

The City responded quickly after discovering during a scheduled inspection in October that a primary drinking water well (Well #3) was so deteriorated that it had to be taken off-line immediately and replaced.  Staff has assembled a set of contract documents, advertised, and opened bids.  This work should be completed by mid-summer in time for the peak water demand season.

The City made considerable progress on Parks projects as well in 2020:

  • Conceptual design and permitting is underway on the Gig Harbor Sports Complex Phase 1B with continued work towards a final agreement with the YMCA for the two artificial playing fields as part of the Sports Complex Phase 1A site;
  • Selection, approval and construction of a play structure at Kenneth Leo Marvin Veterans’ Memorial Park, part of the park’s master plan envisioned in 2007;
  • Rehabilitation and remodel of historic Eddon residence at Boat Park has commenced;
  • Lease agreement with the Jerkovich families to rebuild part of their dock to include the Ancich Park Public Human-Powered Craft Float (Community Paddlers’ Dock) that is a better solution for cost and open space instead of building a separate dock. We are in the process to build it in 2021
  • Skansie Netshed repairs;
  • Homeport feasibility study completed;
  • Railway Carriages at Eddon Boat Building.
  • Cushman Trail Emergency Locator Signage every 1/8 mile

We began collecting revenue in May 2020 from the Transportation Benefit District “TBD” Proposition #1 that was passed in November 2019 by the voters. The increase in sales tax by two tenths of a percent to 8.7% will help fund our road improvements. This only amounts to 20 cents per $100 and will remain one of the lowest sales taxes within the Puget Sound Region. This will allow our city to raise roughly $16 million over the next 10 years for new construction of roads and traffic improvements. It is not for maintenance, sidewalks or curbs; those will be funded in other ways. The city will also now be in a better position to obtain matching grant opportunities that come our way. This will benefit everyone that enters our city, yet only a small portion will have to be paid for by our citizens.

The lack of attainable housing and growing homelessness are issues that are facing us here in Gig Harbor and all over Pierce County. I’ve been working with a group of Pierce County mayors over the past two years to try to brainstorm ideas for ways the city can help with these issues. This group is now called the South Sound Housing Affordability Partners (SSHAP) and together we hope to make headway in 2021 and the years to come.

In 2020, the Community Development department worked with a nationwide consortium of Cities and Counties to oppose the FCC’s Declaratory Order 6409 regarding 5G/Small Cell deployments.  The City’s primary interest has been to retain local regulatory control through design aesthetics and process.  We continue to work with the consortium and the law firm BB&K.

In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council passed multiple ordinances providing temporary relaxation of Special Use Permit requirements and eliminated Encroachment permit fees.  These actions allowed restaurants and other local businesses to serve customers outdoors, opening up opportunities to keep business flowing while complying with State Health Mandates. 

In 2020 what the Municipal Court has experienced and what has been accomplished is historic.  With teamwork and coordinated efforts, we have navigated an ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has spring-boarded us into change many courts have inched toward for decades. 

Court staff quickly adapted and implemented a completely new way of conducting business to keep the court open and accessible to the public.  Remote processes were launched in April 2020 including electronic signatures, video and phone hearings via Zoom, electronic filing, and virtual remote interpreting.  Since April 1, 602 Zoom hearings have been held.

Gig Harbor Municipal Court was also selected as one of four limited jurisdiction courts in Washington to serve as a pilot court for the new, more modern case management system.  The Odyssey case management system will replace a case processing system built for district and municipal courts in 1987 and will be implemented in about 240 courts across the state.  It will provide judge and court staff better access to statewide case records, will streamline case management, and will provide probation departments with their first shared, statewide system.

 

In 2020, the Police Department faced significant operational challenges with the arrival of COVID-19.  Our officers had to adjust the way they responded to calls and had to wear additional personal protective gear when doing so.  The inability to book most offenders into jail due to COVID-related restrictions also created some enforcement issues.  This inhibited our usual proactive approach to some community issues as we adjusted to this new work environment, but overall, Gig Harbor remained the safe and pleasant city in which to live and work.

Internal Accomplishments:

  • Recruited and hired two new police officers to augment our current staffing.  One more officer will be added in early 2021.
  • Hired a Police Services Specialist (PSS) to fill the void left by a longtime employee in that position.  The new PSS has assimilated quickly into the department and has brought a lot of outside knowledge to our organization.
  • Upgraded our 20 year old patrol bicycles.
  • Creatively maintained compliance with the state-required 24-hour in-service training requirements for each officer, utilizing distance learning and in-house training sessions.
  • Improved case management processes to more accurately reflect our case clearance rate.
  • Instituted a new evidence packaging and submission method to improve efficiencies in the property room.
  • Implemented a new training database program to more accurately track individual training and certifications.
  • Continued to update and implement new department policies.  We maintained (or exceeded) state and federal requirements in this area.
  • Reimplemented a dash and body camera program throughout the department.  Full activation scheduled for January 2021.

External Accomplishments:

  • The 2019 statewide crime summary (released in June 2020) showed that our crime rate fell by over 10% for the previous year.   The state average crime rate was down 6.1%.
  • Successfully collaborated with several demonstration groups to ensure peaceful First Amendment displays occurred without incident.
  • Obtained a grant to implement a “Bait Car” program to deter vehicle prowls and thefts.  We greatly increased the number of vehicle prowl incidents solved by arrest of the suspect. 
  • Hosted several COVID-19 drive-thru testing events.
  • Our department hiring practices were featured on a Seattle television news series, focusing on our use of emotional intelligence as a factor in choosing police officers.
  • Donated over $2800 to the Carol Milgard Breast Center from funds raised by our officers participating in the Pink Patch Project.  The Milgard Center was pleased to accept these funds, which will go toward providing screening services for women who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
  • Completed the year with zero sustained citizen complaints against our officers.  In fact, our public support remained very high throughout the year.

In our Tourism and Communications Department, we welcomed a new department director in February, and navigated the COVID outbreak through a quick ramp up in our crisis communications outreach. We increased the Gig-A-Byte newsletter frequency from monthly to weekly in order to provide a listing of businesses that were open, and launched a weekly Facebook Live Q&A to combat misinformation and increase communication with the general public. The audience numbers were so successful, we are continuing the live Q&A bi-weekly. The Association of Washington Cities magazine profiled Gig Harbor’s Q&A series as a communications best practice in their monthly magazine, Cityvision.

While Tourism took a blow this year, we actively began modernizing our advertising and marketing program to be data-driven and post measurable return on investment through a shift to targeted digital spend. We worked with the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee to award $75,000 in LTAC Grants for events and programs that drive tourism to Gig Harbor, along with planning for an additional call for applications in Spring 2021. We also shifted our summer concert series into an online fundraiser for local businesses, in partnership with the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. Looking forward, we have streamlined our marketing budget and we’re looking forward to welcoming an assistant position to the department in 2021.

Human Resources has done a great job navigating COVID-19 this year. They’ve had to lead the response to keep our employees safe. We successfully negotiated new collective bargaining agreements with our police and general employee unions and we also implemented a new NEOGOV program to help us recruit new employees better.

We welcomed the following employees this year:

  • City Administrator, Bob Larson
  • Building Inspector, Sean Brady
  • Maintenance Tech, Peter Frontiero 
  • Tourism and Communications Director, Laura Pettitt
  • IT Manager, Keith Smith
  • Associate Planner, Amy Hilland 
  • Police Officers, Mark Burns

Going forward we have a busy schedule for 2021 with many capital projects. We hope to complete them to the best of our ability while not over burdening our city with construction. We look forward to sharing these projects with the public. The projects can be found in our 2021 budget and we will be doing public outreaches to inform our citizens as well.

 

We are concerned for our staff and community with the roll out of the vaccine and we are in touch with health officials to try to aid our community in every way possible to get through this crisis financially, mentally and healthy.

 

We wish you a healthy and prosperous year.

Cheers,

Kit Kuhn

 

Dec 17

Mayor's Update - December 17, 2020

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 2:38 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor, 

Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope you are celebrating safely and can be close to your loved ones.

While our celebrations might be a bit subdued this year, you can still see our holiday spirit on display throughout the city, particularly the harbor area. Our annual tree is aglow at Skansie Brothers Park and our downtown streets are aglitter with festive lights.  Add to this the many boats that have been decorated and the stores that have displays and we have a truly wonderful experience to help lift our spirits. I’m delighted the city and its employees were able to contribute its efforts to make this happen.  The boat parade last Saturday was a fantastic success with 54 boats and numerous kayaks that was enjoyed by a huge crowd that turned out to watch.   

This Saturday, December 19 at 4:30 pm, there will be a Lighted Car Parade if you’re looking for an event to participate in the festivities.  Also, PenMet Parks and the Kiwanis are hosting “Santa’s Village” for dropping off letters to Santa at Sehmel Homestead Park on Friday, December 18 starting at 3:30 pm.

We continue to see our COVID-19 case counts rising at an alarming rate. The Governor has extended tougher restrictions into January to help us and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. A travel advisory for Washington State is still in effect and a 14-day quarantine for interstate and international travel is recommended. We’re asking residents to stay close to home and limit non-essential travel. Please take these precautions seriously even though it may mean we don’t get to see our friends and family like we normally would.  Please do everything you can to help support one another in these challenging times especially our small businesses.  Your support is vital and will hopefully help them recover and come back strong once we are through this.

The City remains committed to taking the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our community - I ask you to comply voluntarily with these restrictions to get past this quarantine period as quickly as we can. Although city staff will not be actively looking for violations of the Governor’s order, we hope every citizen and business owner will follow the state directive to do our part to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Our Civic Center will remain closed to the public through April 2 and many of our employees will continue to telework through that date.  If the situation with the pandemic improves to the point where we can safely open the Civic Center and have teleworking employees return to work prior to April 2, we’ll provide you with notification in advance of the change. We feel this is the right thing to do for our employees and our community to slow the spread of the virus and help support our employees with their individual circumstances.

One of the hardest hits from the pandemic has been the impact on our small businesses, many of which are still unable to fully reopen. This week, we prepared a letter that Council members and I signed to send to our federal senators and representative imploring them to immediately provide financial relief to our small businesses through additional and substantial funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and other means. We also requested more state and local government aid, additional direct payments to individuals, assistance to people dealing with other pandemic impacts (nutrition assistance, housing, etc.), and more for measures to combat the virus directly (vaccine distribution, testing and tracing efforts). We really need our representatives in Washington, DC to act now to help us.

Early in the pandemic, we passed an emergency ordinance to make it easier for restaurants and businesses to have outdoor dining and sidewalk sales. We also waived the fee for these permits. The ordinance has now been extended through at least December 31, 2021. We are hoping that businesses will feel more confident in investing in outdoor improvements knowing that they will be allowed for all of 2021.

Pierce County has scheduled a free local COVID-19 mobile testing station on Friday, December 18th from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM in the Chapel Hill church parking lot at 7700 Skansie Avenue. These tests are free and results are available in five to seven days.

At the December 14 City Council meeting, Council adopted the City’s 2021 budget. I am very pleased with this budget as it allows us to keep all our current staff and accomplish our biggest priorities. At the same time, we’ve taken a very cautious approach to our revenue expectations for 2021. We still don’t know what the long-term economic effects of COVID-19 will be. We have purposefully built our reserve savings over the last few years and the City is in good financial shape because of that.

Included in the approved 2021 budget is $75,000 in lodging tax grants to several local nonprofits.  Lodging tax funds can only be used to promote tourism-related activities – this is a very specific way for the city to encourage economic development and assist our local nonprofit organizations. This year’s recipients are Harbor Wildwatch, the Downtown Waterfront Association (for the farmers’ market), Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation (Race for a Soldier), and the Gig Harbor Film Festival.  We have reserved $50,000 to fund other opportunities in 2021 for which we’ll announce in the spring the opening of a second cycle for grant applications.

The City has been exploring ways to honor the Native Americans who lived in Gig Harbor before the first European settlers arrived. We’ve been working with the Puyallup Tribe and formed an ad hoc committee to discuss ideas for restoring the name where their village once was. We also want to honor the present family name of the park and are working to do this as well.

On January 6 at 5:30 pm, the Parks Commission will be holding a virtual public hearing on this issue along with a presentation for the public to hear and comment on the potential name changes.  Members of our community are invited to join the meeting and give their thoughts and ideas.  The Parks Commission will make a recommendation to Council and Council will make the final decision on January 25th.

We continue to take the stance that Gig Harbor cannot accommodate expansion of the Tacoma Narrows Airport. On November 23, Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Executive Director Josh Brown updated the City on the PSRC regional airport study.  We have requested that PSRC remove the Tacoma Narrows Airport from its list of airports recommended for expansion.  We are also working with the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) and have requested that it does not recommend expansion to the state legislature.

One important step in reducing or eliminating the possibility for expanding the airport is to get Pierce County to formally join us in this opposition. Pierce County is the airport’s owner.  This week, I sent a letter that included all our councilmembers' signatures to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and County Councilmember Derek Young asking them, as owners of the airport, to request that the CACC remove the TNA from its list.

On the employee side of things we are happy to welcome our two newest police officers! I was honored to swear them in Monday night.

 

Officer McKenzie Fosberg is a native of Gig Harbor and graduated from Gig Harbor High School in 2010.  After obtaining her degree from Washington State University, she served for five years with the Moscow, Idaho Police Department.   She is eager to serve her hometown.

 

Officer Mark Burns grew up in Anacortes, Washington.  He served for five years as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy and then served for two years at the Seattle Police Department.  Mark has been a Gig Harbor resident and is happy to now work in a small-town environment.

 

This past Wednesday council and administration were presented a summary overview of the employee engagement survey from the company that administered it. The results still need to be sent to us so we can work together to formulate a plan moving forward. We have addressed some employee concerns identified through contract negotiations, but we will carefully review the outcomes of the survey, continue to get employee feedback, and will work together to help create a better working environment for our employees.  I look forward to additional conversations in the coming months to better understand where we can improve and how to implement solutions.

I wish each of you and yours a safe, warm and healthy holiday and a happy New Year!

 

Cheers,

Kit

Nov 19

Mayor’s Update - November 19, 2020

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 3:07 PM by Joshua Stecker

Hello Gig Harbor,

As we head into the Thanksgiving Holiday, I’m wishing good health to each of you and your families. We were all feeling a bit more hopeful with some easing of restrictions and more businesses starting to open, and then the COVID numbers climbed after various holidays and gatherings. Now we are having to reverse course.

These are difficult times for us. In the past month we’ve seen our COVID cases quadruple. This is the time we want to be visiting our loved ones for the holidays, but this year will be quite different.  We need to limit our personal contact in order to get through this.  

Governor Inslee has announced updated restrictions that began this week as part of the Safe Start public health order. You can find a summary of these restrictions here. In addition, the Governor has issued a travel advisory for Washington State, recommending a 14-day quarantine for interstate and international travel, while also asking residents to stay close to home and limit non-essential travel.

The City remains committed to taking the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our community - I ask you to comply voluntarily with these restrictions to get past this quarantine period as quickly as we can. Although city staff will not be actively looking for violations of the Governor’s order, we hope every citizen and business owner will follow the state directive to do our part to contain the spread of COVID.

I am concerned our hospitals will become overburdened and be filled so that others who need surgery or other care will be turned away or delayed. Wearing masks at this time is critical for everyone’s safety and health.

We realize that these restrictions come with great inconvenience and hardships, particularly to our business community.  By following the guidance provided, we can ensure a path to a faster reopening and the safety of our citizens. Please join me in following these restrictions for the health of our community.

Pierce County has scheduled a free local COVID mobile testing station on Friday, November 20th from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM in the Gig Harbor High School (5101 Rosedale St NW) parking lot. These tests are free, and results are available in five to seven days. There will be flu shots available at this location, also free to all.

Early on in the pandemic, we passed an emergency ordinance to make it easier for restaurants and businesses to have outdoor dining and sidewalk sales. It also waived the fee for these permits. Council is supportive of extending it throughout the COVID-19 crisis as this ordinance is set to expire on December 31. This coming Monday, November 23, Council will vote to extend this ordinance. Recently I asked Council to show its interest in extending the ordinance and the majority indicated yes.

As we finalize the 2021 budget, we’re being very cautious about predicting how much revenue we’ll bring in next year. Our sales tax reports for 2020 so far show that the City hasn’t seen a loss in revenue from the COVID-19 shutdowns, but we still don’t know what the long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 will be. Council will be reviewing the budget at a public hearing on November 23.

At the last Council meeting, we heard a report from David Fleckenstein, Chair of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC), on the research being done to solve the need for more airline capacity for western Washington in the future. They have the difficult job of finding a place to build a new airport or possibly expand existing smaller airports. Tacoma Narrows Airport is one location they have identified as a possibility, even though they openly acknowledge the site has several deficiencies.

On October 26, Council adopted a resolution that stated we are opposed to any large-scale expansion of the Tacoma Narrows Airport. Last week I sent a letter to the CACC, PSRC (Puget Sound Regional Council) and our state and federal representatives to make our position clear: Gig Harbor cannot accommodate expansion of the airport in our backyard. I will be working with Pierce County (the airport’s owner – the site is outside of city limits) to make sure they continue to oppose expanding the airport. On Monday’s November 23 council meeting we’ll hear a briefing from Josh Brown from PSRC in regard to the airport.

PSRC was set to wrap up their two-year report with public comment by November 5. I requested an extension based on the lack of outreach and involvement of our city and community until the last moment. They have now given us an extension until January 13, 2021 for our city and the community to comment. We urge everyone to do so. You can reach out to give your comments by visiting https://www.psrc.org/aviation-baseline-study-open-house or emailing CACC@wsdot.wa.gov.

On November 9, Council approved moving forward with a project to build a shared multi-use pathway for non-motorized traffic along Burnham Drive (between Harbor Hill Drive and Harborview Drive). We have been hearing from many of you how important it is to have a safe way to walk and bike between neighborhoods.

The City is now using a new webinar platform that allows residents to join City Council meetings live and provide public comments in person. You can use the “raise hand” feature to let us know when you want to address the Council during appropriate times for public comment. I encourage all of you to log on and let us know your thoughts during these upcoming meetings.

Again, I wish each of you have a safe, warm and healthy Holiday. Happy Thanksgiving and remember to be kind to each other.

Cheers,

Kit