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                       110 Train Street SE - PO Box 489 - Orting, WA 98360 - 360.893.2219

Category Archives: Mayor

Mayors Message-City Organizational Assessment & Facility Planning

Organizational Assessment
Every organization needs a way to evaluate the effectiveness of its work. At school, students are tested to see if they learn the material. Nonprofits are required by major fund providers to do performance audits every year. Businesses do inventories to determine which goods sell and to ensure their books are in order. However, there is no real, unbiased way to assess government. That’s why we recently hired a national consulting firm to complete an organizational assessment of all aspects of City Government. Your City Council and I want to ensure that we are spending your hard earned money effectively. How is spending $48,000 helping us save money, you ask. That’s a fair question. After a national bidding process was completed, the firm Matrix came in as the most qualified and offered the best price to perform an assessment of all departments. Matrix has completed hundreds of these assessments and has the subject matter experts to perform a rigorous test of the city’s practices and effectiveness. In addition, a national firm such as Matrix can show us a thing or two we might not have thought of in the management of our police, public works, finance, administration, and yes, even our Mayor and City Council. And remember, Orting is not the only city to do this. As a matter of fact, most cities over a certain population have these assessments done at least once every ten years. Because Orting has never done it before, you could say we are little overdue….
Today Orting employs 34 staff to serve a city of about 7,800 people that will grow to 8,500 over the next few years. This is the same number of staff as we had in 2004 with a population of 4,500. We know that we have the smallest number of staff for this population in the state. Our general fund which pays for police, administration, finance, court, planning, and a building department, is also the smallest in the state for a city our size. So it may seem from a casual view that we are as efficient as could be. We have used new technologies to spread our people out as far as we can. We contract out for our legal, engineering, and planning services. One question we must ask is would we be a better organization if we brought those services in house. In fact the financial savings might cover the cost of the assessment in the first year. Right now we have no office space for them. City services are considered “critical services”. That is, they must occur. We can’t take a break from performing all the tasks required of a city. We can’t let down. So there can be risk and liability with inappropriate staffing levels. Your Council and I have determined that we are at an exciting crossroads where we must plan now for the future. Matrix will give us a kind of report card on how we are doing compared to other effective cities. They will also give us recommendations for staffing, how to better organize that staffing, and what new technologies we can bring to bear to improve. We expect their work to be completed by August. I think it’s important to remember that your city government spends about $12 million a year on all our services and facilities. While $48,000 is a lot of money, we expect the benefits that come out of this will mean better services for you at the lowest possible cost. That will be worthwhile.

Facility Planning
If you have been around Orting for a few years, you surely remember driving by City Hall at 110 Train Street. and seeing the noses of our fire trucks poking out from the brick bays. As recently as the early 2000s, our firefighters were amazing drivers who could back the modern engines with just 2-3 inches of clearance on either side into bays built 50 years before. The overhead doors could not even be closed and our entire fire department was exposed to whoever might walk in off the street. We were so out-of-date, a picture or Orting’s City Fire Department made the cover of the FEMA fire station safety manual, as an example of what NOT to do. While a little humorous in hindsight, such a spectacle should not be repeated if we have the means to avoid it. In 2006 we built the new facilities you see today. In 2008, the citizens of our city voted to be annexed into the County’s Fire District 18, and we disbanded our city fire department. A couple of years ago, Fire District 18 alerted the city that they were running out of space at the city’s public safety building and wanted to buy the building or leave and build their own facility. The current building – now 11 years old — not only houses the fire department but the police department, court, and city council and commission meetings. After working out an agreement this year to sell the building to OVFR for $2.2 million, it seemed the time had come to take a comprehensive look at city facilities. The purchase and sale of the public safety building must be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2017. Starting in January, the City has to pay rent for the police and court until it completes new facilities in what is expected to be 2018. Right now the Multi-Purpose Center (MPC) can work for Council but would not be sufficient for court. While the Court may have to use the MPC for a while, the facilities are inadequate for that use and the City needs to remedy that as soon as possible.
The City has hired an architectural firm, Helix, through the competitive bidding process. As we speak, Helix is working with us to determine our needs for the police station and where it should be located. The firm will also help the City better understand current and future space/office needs and how it can serve the public more effectively.
The City expects to build a new public works facility by the sewer treatment facility in 2017 or 2018. For the last 20 years, the City has been saving money for this facility and now has sufficient funds to pay cash for it. Right now Orting’s public works staff and supplies are divided between three locations in aging facilities and this is not particularly efficient.
For example, public works currently uses the old fire station (the decades-old brick building mentioned earlier). When a public works building is completed and the fire bays are vacated, the City will have the opportunity to see how we can best use the space. It’s a suitable building but doesn’t meet all the accessibility rules terms of the American Disability Act (ADA) and may have some modern earth quake deficiencies. If we are to be eligible for federal grants, we will have to solve these problems. This is one area our architectural firm will help us evaluate. We still owe about $900,000 on the current Public Safety Building, so after we pay that the sale of the building will leave the City with about $1.3 million. In order to plan for adequate police, court, and public meeting spaces, $1.3 million will have to be combined with reserves from our other funds. The City may even have to consider further bond debt to complete the various projects. Some of our possible decisions would be to determine if the Multipurpose Center (MPC) (connected to the library) is sufficient or should the City consider remodeling the bays in the old building for Council and Court. Can our old facilities be brought up to modern building standards including earthquake readiness? Or is it more cost effective to build a new building? And, no matter which decision is made, how do should it be paid for? This is a great time to give me and your city council your thoughts and ideas about these plans. We will have public meetings in the near future and an open house to make sure our citizens have a chance to weigh in on these plans. We need to plan for the future now if we are to avoid once again becoming the cover of a FEMA manual.

The most recent message from Mayor Pestinger May 19, 2017

The Mayor’s Corner
What’s Happening at the Soldiers Home
Wednesday Orting citizens, City Council Members and I had an opportunity to listen to and ask questions about the Betsy Ross Housing Project and other homeless veteran programs at the Soldiers Home. Representing the program were John Lee, and Ray Switzer of the nonprofit WestCare Foundation as well as leadership of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). WestCare has entered into a partnership and lease agreement for the Betsy Ross Building, to provide housing and supportive services for 12 homeless women veterans. The building has been fully renovated and is ready to receive women now.
Councilmembers asked questions concerning the admission criteria, security, background checks, medical care, transportation, employment and others. The Councilmembers and I were particularly interested in the security of the City. I received a “yes” to my request for random drug tests by the County Health Department. I also asked that WestCare work hard at finding any homeless women veterans in Orting to take part in the programs.
The WestCare leaders described programs like this one they have been running for some years. They stated they have been particularly successful getting the veterans all available government support including income and medical care. They’ve also been able to find housing, employment, training and education.
In the end John Lee, a Senior Vice President of WestCare and former Director of the State Department of Veterans Affairs, stated that he is certain these programs will be successful, and if not, they will be closed. We will hold John Lee to his promise. He also wanted me to make his cell phone number available to all our citizens should they have any additional questions. Mr. Lee’s phone number is (360) 529-1592.

Two way Turn Lane on Washington by Safeway
Ever since I served on the city council 10 years ago I’ve been pushing for a left-turn lane at this intersection. I’m happy to report that we received State funding that will pay for 2/3 of the construction of this project. Work should start shortly. This should keep traffic flowing instead of backing it up while waiting for someone who wants to turn left. The project will also include intersection improvements for pedestrian safety and decorative lighting.

Orting Bypass Road (Southwest Connector)
The current City Council again approved the bypass road from Whitehawk Blvd, to Calistoga St. W. that was approved about 8 years ago. Our City Engineer and I lobbied the Puget Sound Regional Council for federal funding. We just received word that Orting will receive $347,000 for engineering and design work. Also, we are in line to receive additional funding for property acquisitions. Since 65% of our traffic drives home though town to get to Graham and south Pierce County communities, getting those cars out of the mix before the traffic “train” hits the 25 mile speed zone will speed up the entire string of cars. The City Council also allocated funds to do property appraisals this year. We are hoping for significant progress in 2017 and 2018.

Thanks for reading this,

Joachim Pestinger (Joe) Continue Reading

A Tragedy in Town

The recent death of young Cody Breslin has been a shock and a wakeup call for our community. I have seen various communications about the circumstances around his death and I wanted to take a moment to let you know what I know so far.

Until the Medical Examiner rules what the cause of death was, our police actions are limited. The death occurred at what many in our community call “the farm”. I know that this property has a history of being used for illegal activities. The police chief has shared with me that the police have responded to more than 30 incidents at this place in the last couple of years.

What Has the City Been Doing?
About 2 years ago the city forced the owner of the land to tear down one of the barns because of code violations. We were aware that people were using this barn for shelter and suspected drug use. Our code enforcement officer attended additional training this past year for up-to-date legal information on how to close down properties where illegal activity is common.

Recently the city participated in the successful prosecution of one of the residents of the farm. He is now serving a two year sentence. The City has also been working with Pierce County and the State of Washington to investigate this property for civil violations.

At the March 8th City Council meeting our attorney introduced the draft of an ordinance for the Declaration and Abatement of Chronic Nuisance Properties. To speed things up, the Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, March 14th at 7:00 pm. to act on this legislation.

You might also be aware that the Orting Police, with the aid of surrounding Police Departments recently shut down a drug house near the Post Office.

In Conclusion
Illegal drugs are the scourge of our time and have been for the last 60 years. Addiction seems to be at an all-time high. The crimes that are attached to this illegal activity are many and increasing. I am committed to the full investigation and prosecution of illegal drug activity in our town. It will not be easy. It seems our courts and laws tend to favor the perpetrator more than the victims. I will need your assistance in keeping your eyes open and letting our police department know about any illegal drug activity that you might be aware of. Continue Reading

Growing Pains

Mayor’s Corner

Why doesn’t the City have a building moratorium until SR 162 is widened?

My wife, Jeannie Pestinger, has lived here for 40 years. She remembers the simpler life when the population was around 1,500 and the highway was lined with daffodil fields. She has seen many changes and appreciates the city’s efforts in guiding responsible growth since then.
In 1974 the State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA). Its purpose was to make the best use of space and infrastructure resources by concentrating building density in urban areas (cities) and not in unincorporated and more rural areas. Washington is a very attractive state. Millions of people still plan to move here in the future. More than a million are expected to come to the Puget Sound area in the next 30 years. Orting’s comprehensive plan must be approved annually by the State and County to ensure it meets GMA guidelines.
The City only has jurisdiction over growth and facilities within its boundaries, such as sewer, storm water, water utilities and internal roads. We have no control over SR162 or County roads outside of our boundaries. Even any work we do on SR162 inside the City requires State approval and permitting. However, the City can politically lobby the State and County for improvements. We do that regularly and we work together with surrounding cities.
A Building Moratorium
The City can only enforce a building moratorium if it can prove it doesn’t have adequate utilities or facilities to accommodate growth… Right now the City’s sewer, water, and storm water facilities are built for 9,000 people. Our current population is about 7,500. Any attempt to stop the final build-out of our City could expose the City to potential legal action. The City would likely lose any suits, and would be forced to approve development, pay all legal fees, and those costs would ultimately be passed on to our citizens in the form of taxes etc. It may feel good to try and stop the growth but in the end that decision would be costly to all of us and we would still end up with growth.
All new developments must provide an independent Traffic Impact Study. When impacts reach certain State limits (in the City) the developer must mitigate impacts, usually with left and right turn lanes. Additionally, all new homes must pay impact fees. This includes paying for a portion of the sewer, water, storm, school, traffic, and parks fees, and building permit fees. The average amount paid is approximately $20,000 per residence.
State Route SR 162
The City has worked hard at trying to get the State to improve SR162 to Sumner. We just participated in a study with them that shows that even with a 5 lane road to Sumner the trip will take almost as long as with just 2 lanes unless SR 167, SR 410 and the overpass are fixed. However, in the interim WSDOT will probably do some minor fixes on SR 162 to improve the highway with left and right turn lanes.

So Here We Are
Our best bet to manage our growth is to make sure developers meet our standards and provide transportation improvements when we can legally require them to do so. We should continue to lobby the State and County for transportation improvements in our region and be willing to pay our share for it.
The City is also working on the “Southwest Connector” between Whitehawk Blvd. and Calistoga Street to move through-traffic out of the downtown core and speed up the SR 162 commute. 60% to 70% of the traffic on SR162 at rush hour is actually not from Orting residents. These are commuters from South Hill, Graham and even Eatonville who are trying to find the fastest way home. We cannot stop them from coming. We are trying to get grants from the Legislature and the County for this multi-million dollar project.
On the east side of our valley we are trying to limit additional growth of the Tehaleh development through political lobbying. I’m grateful that I have been selected by the Pierce County Regional Council to represent most Pierce County cities and towns on the Executive Board of the Puget Sound Regional Council. The board develops long-range traffic and growth control plans and distributes federal funds to the 4-county region.
Recently most of the land along SR 162 has been zoned Agricultural Resource Land by the County. Only one house per 20 acres can be built, which means that the population of the valley will remain very close to what it is now.
We all love living in Western Washington but so do many other people. We have hazards we must prepare for as well. I say let’s love living here and make the most of our opportunities. I’ve talked about a lot of different issues here. If you’d like to talk more please call or send me an email. You can also speak with our City Administrator, Mark Bethune, if I am not available. Thanks for reading this. Continue Reading

A MESSAGE FROM MAYOR JOACHIM PESTINGER TO THE ORTING COMMUNITY

As we come to the end of 2016, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ll be writing more often, hopefully monthly, in the “Mayor’s Corner”.

The City Council passed the 2017 budget on Wednesday December 14th. One of the Council’s goals has been a balanced budget, especially in the “General Fund”. It pays for police, court, administration, finance, and the recreation and building departments. We have other funds for streets, parks, and utilities. General Fund revenues are a portion of your property taxes, sales tax, the tax levied on power, phone, and cable services, as well as fines/penalties from the court. The General Fund includes a balance for Reserves. Reserves pay the bills from January to May until property taxes are due. They also help us withstand recessions and emergencies so that we don’t need to reduce services to our citizens.

New home construction has greatly helped the General Fund during the last few years. So while we currently bring in more revenue than expenses, this due to extra building activity, future activity is an unknown and can fluctuate. If construction was at a more normal rate we would actually face a deficit of about $100,000. Therefore I recommended to Council that we add a utility tax of 2.5% because we cannot depend on unknown future building activity. This increase would have raised your monthly utility bill by about $2.50 a month (less for seniors and the disabled). The state gave cities this taxing authority about 30 years ago because they realized how difficult it was, especially for smaller cities, to pay for government. Most cities in the state adopted the tax. Orting is one of only three cities that has not adopted it. None of us like tax increases, but I have come to see how important it is to sufficiently fund city governments and still hold them accountable and wise in how the funds are used. Council members asked me to take this out of the 2017 Budget while they wrestle some more with how to close the gap. I agreed.

The Council approved a utility rate increase on December 14, 2016.th. Your monthly utility bill will go up about $6 a month, again less for seniors and the disabled. There are miles and miles of utility pipes and lines with an estimated value of about $100 million in town. Some of these are very old and will need replacement. We also must keep up with state requirements to improve our utility systems. Since our utility bills are 20% below our neighbors in this region, the Department of Health is very concerned that we will not have the money for needed repairs and replacements. I disagree with their concerns and want to assure you that our utilities are in good order.

We expect construction to begin early spring on a left turn lane on Washington Avenue at Whitesell. I suspect that you are as frustrated as I am in trying to get to Safeway and other stores in Pioneer Village or getting stuck in a long line behind those trying to make that left turn. The City received a million dollar grant from the state to fund most of this project and the rest of the expense comes from transportation impact fees paid by developers.

Another big issue for 2017 is that we are looking at the potential of selling the Public Safety Building to the Fire District as they need to expand. If this occurs we will need to build a police station and a place for council and court to conduct business. We are having our city planner conduct a facilities planning process to help us determine the best path for this work. We have a committee that is made up of citizens and other stakeholders to help us make the best decision. We are a growing city with an old infrastructure and need to make updates. One of the alternatives that I favor is to tear down the old city hall and build a two story building that can offer one stop service from the City.

Wishing you and yours the very best,

Joachim ‘Joe’ Pestinger,
Mayor, City of Orting. Continue Reading

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110 Train Street SE - PO Box 489
Orting, WA 98360 - 360.893.2219