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Auburn City Council Explore Resolutions to Homeless Encampments, Possible B&O Tax

The Auburn City Council’s April 12 study session started with massive spending allocation master planning, including a new $65 million dollar police station, to ending the meeting discussing a proposed business & occupation tax on local Auburn entrepreneurs. (click here to watch the full study session)

Facility Needs Assessment and Master Plan
(click here to watch)

The Auburn Facilities Master Plan was presented by Beth Batchelder, consultant Seattle-based Maker’s Architecture and Urban Design, who said that the city had paused its planning from May to September 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movement. Since September 2020, the city has worked on a Phase III approach, with an updated analysis on Phasing & Implementation of the final plan.

“We used that time to really refine the alternative concepts that we had,” Batchelder said to council members during her presentation. The consultant’s initial draft recommendations also a $142 million dollar investment in maintenance and operations.

Batchelder said that the proposed police station would meet the city’s law enforcement needs for the next 50 years.

a graphic from the facilities update.
source: City of Auburn

Also highlighted was that the city spends an average of $450,000 annually on facilities maintenance from 2009 to 2018, which Batchelder said was about 50% of the industry-standard benchmark.

Ordinance No. 6814 – Establishing a City B&O Tax
(Click here to watch)

In order to pay for the city’s projected revenue shortfalls, the city council discussed Ordinance No. 6814, which would establish a business & occupation tax.

“It was actually at the beginning of this meeting we were talking about a bond…half would be coming out of the general fund,” said Councilmember Chris Sterns, of the proposed $66 million dollar facilities master plan redevelopment. “How can we afford to do that if we don’t increase our general fund revenues?”

If the city stayed at its current funding levels without increasing revenues, Mayor Nancy Backus said that the outlook for the municipalities’ services would be noticed immediately.

“A $6 million cut in the police department looks completely different than a $6 million cut in parks or in public works, or in council budget or in anything else,” Backus said.

Councilmember Bob Baggett said that none of the council wanted to raise taxes on area businesses, however, they were limited in alternatives.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point here where we really need to move on with this (Ordinance No. 6814),” Baggett said, mentioning that the discussion over projected revenue shortfalls had been discussed over the last couple of years. “We can’t push this down the channel too far.”

Ordinance No. 6817 – Amending City Code related to Camping on City Property
(Click here to watch)

Sandwiched in the middle of the April 12 meeting on the future of the municipalities’ budget and revenue forecasting, city council members held a discussion on addressing homelessness, cleanup of specific areas seriously affected by encampments and houseless residents in area wetlands and city property, and the pending opening of the Community Court within the city’s jurisdiction.

The Community Court aspect is a “diversion” court that creates alternatives for individuals, allowing charges to be completely dropped and removed from a person’s record if they agree to get any treatment or help that they need. The court addresses things like theft, shoplifting, trespassing, and other low-level offenses.

Updating the city code related to camping on city property in conjunction with Community Court also eliminates prison time for trespass citations completely.  This is both a cost-saving move for city resources for incarcerations and positions individuals before the court to find a better outcome to an incarcerated alternative.

The council was provided with a presentation of the financial and environmental cost current lack of accountability is having throughout the city. Also included were photographs of trash and debris, as well as projected cleanup efforts at various encampments on city property.

“I can’t emphasize enough that these are classified as environmentally sensitive areas,” said Jeff Tate, Director of Community Development Services. “I think it’s important to call out, that while these are public lands, these conditions on a private property would initiate a very swift and significant response from our city in terms of code enforcement action.”

The damaging effect of these encampments is not limited to Auburn. They are causing harm to local fish resources, including the Puyallup Tribe, which has found needles and other debris from the encampments in their fish traps.

Used needles were discovered by the city in 41 of the 43 encampments that they visited.  In North Auburn, 25 of the 28 encampments are in environmentally sensitive critical areas. In South Auburn, 9 of 15 are in environmentally sensitive areas.

Despite the city financing more than $1 million annually in sheltering services, those opportunities aren’t fully utilized by the area’s houseless population.

Tate estimated that the clean-up of 43 encampments would be over a six-month time frame and includes costs of $10,000 to $50,000 per encampment to remove all the debris and restore the damaged habitat. One particularly large encampment, on protected wetland, is estimated to cost $179,000 to clear.

Tate also warned that the cost would recurring, figuring that bids for a one time cleanup from area contractors would be $430,000 to $2.125 million in total cost.

“For some people, there has to be a tool,” said Auburn’s Outreach Program Administrator Kent Hay. ” said “Because you can compassion people all you want to, but you’ll compassion people to death I promise you that. Without accountability, you don’t have a real relationship with people.”

Updated: Updated to add recap video.

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One Comment

  1. Robert B Robert B April 15, 2021

    The Auburn City Council wants to make city business owners who are already struggling because of the pandemic…and many of them dealing with loss of business due to trash issues and these homeless folks harassing customers…or parking on the street for days in front of the their businesses….

    Let me get this straight now. The City of Auburn wants THOSE people to pay for homeless solutions? This, in my humble opinion, is ridiculous and shortsighted. Official sources say that at any one time, maybe 650,000 people are homeless in America on any given day. That is baloney. According to articles by Mother Jones (magazine) and other media sources, the number is actually closer to two million. This is because many people don’t wish to be counted, and many juvenile homeless runaways are not counted as well. Neither are many LBGT folks counted.

    These City Council folks need to sit down and screen the old movie The Grapes of Wrath and watch it carefully. Even back in the 1930’s the Feds figured out that creating one central place in communities, or just outside communities, where the homeless could set up camp was a far better solution. In the movie, they called them ‘Wheat Patch Camps,’ and they had an authority figure there as the overall supervisor, although these places were self-policed by people who actually lived there. They had rudimentary baths and showers, connections to possible jobs or other help, (although there wasn’t much help available because the Great Depression was far worse than the economy today.)

    What needs to be done is something like that in communities that are inundated with homeless folks to get them off the streets and stop making them play musical chairs with their vehicles and motor homes. Plus, scattering them throughout the community just causes trash everywhere in neighborhoods, upsets city residents, and increases crime, especially at night.

    By doing this somewhere in Auburn, you could get all the trash in one spot and install dumpsters. You could have cops checking in regularly. You could have all the homeless in one spot…so if you actually wanted to help them with social services, you wouldn’t have to chase them all over the Auburn area to do so. You could offer them at least minimal medical care, job opportunities, and a host of other things….ALL of which would be cheaper than having them camp all over city. Yes…the Auburn City Council should sit down as a group and watch the whole movie.

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