State of the City
State of the City Address 2014
Presented by Interim City Manager Rob Hendrickson
Mayor Margaret Harto
I’m sure you’ve heard about our ranking on Movato Real Estate’s “Most Boring Cities in Washington” survey. Yes, we are the number one most boring city in the state! At first glance, that doesn’t sound great…but what Movato is really saying, as they state in their article, is:
“Many [of the cities on this list] are safe, welcoming, and very inclusive little communities, and most have their own unique charms…However, what we’re saying is that excitement isn’t their strong suit, and that they cater better to the peace and quiet type of folks.”
Specifically, they state that Covington has “…some young population, and if you look hard, you can even find a few active life amenities. So, all you outdoorsy types that enjoy peace and quiet might be at home here.”
So, I don’t know about you…but I love the “boring” aspects of our city!
But, we are here today to talk about the State of our City. How are we doing financially? How are we doing in economic development? How are we doing in meeting the needs of our residents? And what are our plans going forward?
One common link that all of our projects and programs share is that they were all made possible through partnerships…which, since the economic downturn, has helped us to keep moving forward and accomplishing great things even in tough times. Our partnerships include other cities like Maple Valley, the Kent School District, the Covington Water District, the Kent Regional Fire Authority, our Service Clubs, HOAs and Community Groups, our Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce, and many other organizations we are fortunate enough to partner with. Working with these partners makes Growing Toward Greatness possible in Covington.
I wanted to highlight some exciting accomplishments that help tell the story of how we are doing.
- Your City Council approved the Hawk Property Subarea Plan which allows the property developer to move ahead with plans to develop land in the northern part of our city that will house commercial retail, single-family residences, an extension of 256th, pedestrian-friendly design, and so much more.
- The City’s success in winning grants and legislative appropriations is moving important projects closer to reality, like CCP Phase 2, the Jenkins Creek Bridge Replacement, and SR 516 Jenkins Creek to 185th ROW work.
- We’ve launched a new parks and recreation athletic program to continue to offer sports programs in our community and we now offer youth soccer, flag football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball.
- The City received the Gold Summit Award from the Washington Festival and Events Association for Best Promotional Campaign for a festival with a budget under $75,000 – which was for our Covington Days Festival during the city’s first year managing it.
- And, we enthusiastically released our new brand graphics that will help better identify ourselves and tell our story to the public.
To tell you more about our story this past year, please welcome Interim City Manager and Finance Director Rob Hendrickson.
Interim City Manager Rob Hendrickson
Thank you Mayor Harto and thank you for your warm welcome.
This may be the first and last SOTC address I’ll give. So I’m savoring the opportunity to pass on the exciting things that have happened and are happening in our city.
We have talked a lot about the economy over the past several years. While the slowly improving state of the economy still takes its toll on us and other cities around us, we make every effort to ensure Covington’s future is not defined by it. We combat our tumultuous economy with persistence, resourcefulness, creativity and through partnerships. Also, our amazing residents, city council members, city staff, commissioners, chamber of commerce members, businesses, and partner organizations keep Covington Growing Toward Greatness in every way possible.
We continue striving towards achieving your City Council’s mission and goals, which we use as a guide as we address growth opportunities and possibilities. Given that foundation, let’s review our recent accomplishments.
Financial Stability and Stewardship
The downturn of the economy forced businesses, organizations and even cities to reconsider how they managed their money. This city has been a responsible steward of public monies and the economic hard time has only reinforced that fact.
In January of this year, Moody’s Investors Service also reinforced that fact when they reviewed the financial status of 256 local governments across the United States. The City of Covington was the only city in Washington State to receive a bond rating upgrade. It went up one level to an Aa2 - up from an Aa3. While this doesn’t seem like a big jump this took the city out of the upper medium grade bond rating category and put the city squarely into the high quality bond rating category. The overall rating of Aa2 is two notches below a AAA and is equivalent to a Standard and Poors (S&P) rating of AA.
Moody’s reports that the upgrade is reflected in the city’s significantly improved financial profile and positive multi-year financial trends. Other considerations include the city’s strong financial management, history of solid reserve levels, and modest debt burden.
Economic Development/Town Center
We endeavor to encourage and support a business community that is committed to Covington for the long-term. This can’t be any more evident than the progress we’ve seen on the economic development front, including our Northern Gateway and Town Center. In efforts to build upon the development climate in Covington, we’ve been able to accomplish and further several initiatives this year:
- Commercial Brokers Roundtable
- In May, we held a roundtable meeting with invited commercial brokers in the area. We wanted to have an open conversation with them about how the city is doing and what the city can do to improve the development environment.
- Hawk Subarea Plan
- We reviewed and approved the subarea plan for the Hawk property, which is the land located off 256th Street where the gravel pit now resides. With this complete, the developer can now work to propose zoning code changes and annex the portion of land currently outside of city boundaries. This development plans to feature 800,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 1,200 dwelling units including single-family homes, apartments, townhomes, and condos. And it will also include a new roadway - an extension of 256th.
- Inland Group Mixed-Use Housing Project
- The Inland Group is developing a complex with ground floor retail space and outdoor public amenities such as seating areas, and 150 units of senior housing and 200 units of low-moderate-income housing. This project will begin construction soon and is located on seven acres behind Safeway.
- Development Partnership with Panattoni
- We established a partnership earlier this year with builder and developer Panatonni to assist us with public/private partnership opportunities within the Town Center.
- Higher Education
- In molding the Town Center vision, the idea of having a higher education presence developed. While we’ve been pursuing this opportunity through meeting with several state universities and community and technical colleges, Eastern Washington University and GRCC have shown real enthusiasm in pursuing this further. EWU will conduct its own needs assessment study this fall with results coming late in the year. The city continues to keep the legislature involved as they have a stake in this as well. We will keep you apprised of the outcome.
- Sign Code Amendment Review Process
- We began a thorough review of the city’s sign code to identify areas that needed updating and improving. We want our businesses and organizations to have the ability to promote through signage but also balance that with the city’s aesthetics.
- Downtown Design Code Changes
- We revisited our downtown design codes and made changes to ensure that downtown development has high quality components to keep up the appearance of the area.
- Branding Project
- Covington has become well-known in the region and also the development community over the past several years, but we’ve never had a clear representation of who we are.
- In our efforts to further promote the City of Covington to attract high quality businesses and even new residents, it was decided to embark on a branding project.
- After a two-year long process initiated by the Covington Economic Development Council (CEDC) and conducting research, group workshops, interviews and more, we finally developed a graphic representation (or logo) and a tagline (Growing Toward Greatness) that we feel accurately represents our city’s personality and goals to the region at large. The new logo and tagline were unveiled at Covington Days. The city continues to receive positive reviews on the new look.
Youth & Families
We have made remarkable progress in our endeavor to establish and promote city services that emphasize and meet the needs of Covington’s youth and families.
- New Athletics Program
- Earlier this year when it was learned that the organization responsible for operating community sports programs in Covington was struggling financially and would have to close its doors the city stepped up. Your City Council holds an unwavering support for youth programs and did not want to see the youth of this community lose a valuable program.
- So the decision was made for our Parks and Recreation Department to assume the role as the community’s athletics provider when the organization closed.
- The city’s new athletics program kicked off in September with a ribbon-cutting and soccer jamboree. Hundreds of youth have enrolled in soccer and flag football, with basketball and volleyball soon to follow.
- Expanded Recreation Programs
- We continue to refine and expand recreation programming that our Parks and Recreation Department provides for the community. We’ve offered a range of opportunities from dance, gymnastics, Zumba, and martial arts to babysitting (not to staff), art, and educational classes.
- Summer Events
- We continue to offer summer programming to the community. Our summer community events kicked off in July with the city managing the Covington Days Festival for the second straight year, which as Mayor Harto noted, won a Washington Festival and Events Award during the city’s first year of managing the festival.
- Our Summer Concert Series moved to its new home at Covington Community Park and featured three wonderful musical acts over three weekends. We had the highest attendance in its three years of existence.
- And, wrapping up our summer events in August was another very successful Covington KidsFest.
- Aquatics Success
- The Covington Aquatics Center continues to be a very special asset to our community’s youth and families. This year, the aquatics center added new programs to provide the community as many chances to participate as possible, including an Underwater Easter Egg Hunt, Sunday swimming lessons, and new Friday night family swims.
- New Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Upgrades and pool repairs were completed to maintain accessibility to all members of the community.
- The aquatics center also hosted the first ever Boy Scout Swimming Merit Badge Clinic in the state of Washington. By the way - this program was their brainchild from development to getting buy off from the Boy Scouts Executive Office and to implementing the training. They also participated in providing Special Olympics Training to local Special Olympics Athletes. These are major accomplishments that we’re excited to share with you!
- Public Safety
- Public safety is such an important aspect of a growing community such as ours. We made progress this year in beginning a Cops in Schools Program in Covington elementary
- schools. We have a dedicated officer assigned to each of the four elementary schools to visit 1-2 times a week for at least an hour.
- The goal is to provide a visual presence of uniformed officers in the school to deter criminal activity on school campuses and to establish strong working relationships between the officers, school personnel and students.
- This will further enhance their ability to collaboratively respond to criminal activity as well as being approachable role models to the students.
- The city recently approved a contract in partnership with the Kent School District that provides a School Resource Officer at Kentwood High School. The officer should be on board by late October.
We also work hard to ensure that Covington is a community that people want and choose to live in. We’re working on several projects that specifically benefit and improve neighborhoods throughout Covington.
- JCP Boardwalk Repair and Bridge Replacement
- You may recall a few years ago the Jenkins Creek Park Bridge washed out during a substantial rain storm. The bridge and the park had been a popular pedestrian route between neighborhoods and heavily traveled by students walking to and from Jenkins Creek Elementary School.
- We worked hard to find funding to replace the bridge and received a Community Development Block Grant from King County to proceed with the project, which is currently underway.
- Currently, repairs have been completed on the boardwalk in Jenkins Creek Park which had deteriorated. Access has been restored for park users.
- Tree City USA 12th Year
- Covington is now in its 12th year as a Tree City USA recipient. This designation is received each year because we have a program in place to monitor, maintain and improve our tree population in our city, our parks, and our neighborhoods.
- 156th Ave SE Project
- As funding allows, we strive to maintain and make roadway improvements across the city and within our neighborhoods. One project that’s been a long time coming is the 156th Ave SE improvement. Thanks to a legislative appropriation, this project is nearing completion.
Planning, developing, implementing and maintaining infrastructure and municipal services is perhaps the most costly part of operating a city, and it is also the most important.
- Comprehensive Plan Update Progress
- Our community development department began the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update process this year. The Comp Plan is what we use to define our city’s goals and aspirations as it relates to community development and planning. This process includes extensive public outreach and will be completed in 2015.
- Joint Contracts with Maple Valley for Crack Sealing and Sweeping
- We continue to share resources with nearby cities to increase efficiencies as well as save money. We just completed a joint street crack sealing project with Maple Valley which allows each city to maximize staff resources and complete projects faster. We also entered into a joint contract for street sweeping with Maple Valley which is allowing both cities to save money.
- Landscape Maintenance Brought In-House
- With the termination earlier this year of a landscape contract it was decided to bring the job in-house for improved results. We’ve added new seasonal employees to perform the work which has proven to be more cost effective than the contract.
- SR 516 Project Progress
- After the completion of the 272nd Wax Road to Jenkins Creek project – a project that was funded almost entirely through grant funding - we moved toward the next portion of the project: Jenkins Creek to 185th. Grant funds have been made available to work on design and right-of-way but not construction. So while staff continues its efforts to secure the remainder of the funding, we can be proud of the fact that the completed portion has been a significant improvement.
- Grant Funding
- Our Parks and Recreation Department has succeeded in earning over $2 million in grant funds for use on various projects including:
- A State of Washington Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) grant for City-wide Tree Inventory for $10,000.
- Another State of Washington DNR grant for Urban Forestry Restoration Program work for $20,000.
- Two State of Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grants of $500,000 each for Covington Community Park Phase Two awarded but still pending legislative funding.
- A Grant for SoCo Park acquisition of $450,000 from King County Conservation Futures.
- And one more RCO Grant of $559,000 also for SoCo Park acquisition - pending legislative funding.
- Our Parks and Recreation Department has succeeded in earning over $2 million in grant funds for use on various projects including:
We pride ourselves on the outstanding quality of customer service afforded by our employees, volunteers and stakeholders. We are all invested in Covington’s success and we continue to implement ways to be more efficient and provide services above and beyond what is expected of us.
- Credit Card Processing
- In an effort to keep with the times and make monetary transactions with the city more convenient for our customers, a new credit card processing system was implemented earlier this year. Small improvements like this really make an impact on our customers’ experiences with the city.
- Loss Prevention Summit
- Our police department developed a Loss Prevention Summit that was held in July. Police invited retailers of all sizes in Covington to network and share information regarding loss prevention strategies and processes.
- Police aimed to define the information best needed for successful prosecution of shoplifting cases, update retailers on recent related court decisions and improve communications between retailers, police and the prosecutor for improving combined efforts preventing crimes and prosecuting criminals.
On The Horizon
We’ve seen some great accomplishments this year in all areas of the city. Here are some events to look forward to on the short-term horizon:
- Thanks to more grant funding, the Public Works Department will be conducting a city-wide safety project to improve several intersections throughout the city. These improvements may include new striping, signage and ADA improvements.
- As the economy improves, so does our development environment. This next year we look forward to a new Wendy’s restaurant locating where the 76 gas station used to be, a proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant at the Burger King site, the Inland Group apartment complex located behind Safeway, a new MultiCare hospital, and the construction of Cedar Springs Apartments – A 160 unit complex located on Kent Kangley across from the Red Robin restaurant.
- Your City Council has also begun the recruitment process for a City Manager to replace Derek Matheson who left in late July. The current schedule is on track to hire someone prior to year end. (Given all the meetings I’ve had to attend in Derek’s place that may not be soon enough!)
On a more long-term horizon these projects show promise:
- Phase Two of Covington Community Park is coming closer and closer to fruition. With the several grants that I mentioned a few minutes ago, it’s only a matter of time before CCP Phase Two is fully funded and moving forward.
- We continue to seek grant and legislative funding for the SR 516 from Jenkin’s Creek to 185th improvements. Like the first portion of the project, it is going to take outside funding sources to complete, but we’re on the right path.
- Our work on fostering the Town Center continues to progress. We’ll keep exploring creative and unique possibilities with our development partner Panatonni.
- Higher education is a distinct possibility for Covington. We will continue our discussions with those institutions who see the potential for future education development.
- And we’ll continue to support the Hawk Property development in the Northern Gateway area of our city. It will be an exciting addition to Covington when – not if – it becomes reality.
- One last thing – The council added an important tool to the city’s tool box when they created a Transportation Benefit District in 2013. As most of you know, the ballot measure to fund the TBD through increasing the local sales tax by .2% failed by 39 votes. Council still has the opportunity to revisit how to fund the TBD and will be discussing next steps in the near future and at an upcoming TBD meeting. This is an important element in an overall long-term financial strategy to support a struggling street fund.
This city has always found the wherewithal to change and adapt to new challenges. We certainly don’t want to minimize the effects the Great Recession has had on our city. However, we remain practical but cautiously optimistic as we manage growth and conduct future planning. The city council and staff has always prided itself on its public process. We choose to listen to opinions and ideas and we welcome yours if you’d like to share them with us, especially as we move forward with the Comprehensive Plan Update, the Parks and Recreation PROS Plan Update in 2015 and funding the TBD. You have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing and future success of Covington!
I want conclude by saying to you as business owners and business people – I applaud your tenacity for being on the front lines and for being a big part of the engine that drives the local economy. Through your efforts the city receives critical revenues that help fund services such as police, streets and parks. Thank you for your accomplishments and dedication to the city. It’s a pleasure to work beside you!
And thank you again for the opportunity to speak before you today.