ARLINGTON – At a countywide economic forecast breakfast in Everett prior to presenting her State of the City address, Mayor Barb Tolbert listened as she heard that housing prices and availability, coupled with vacant industrial land, are bringing prosperity Arlington’s way sooner than later.
“Arlington is no longer poised for a solid future; I think it’s here,” said Tolbert during her annual address at the Stilly Valley Chamber luncheon Wednesday in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center.
She said industry experts at the breakfast anticipate a leveling off in general, but the rush for housing will continue in the north county.
“Land up here is affordable, the housing prices are much better than they are to the south urban areas, so people will be looking to move up here because they can ‘drive until they qualify,’” Tolbert said.
With job growth and economic development paramount among the goals of city leaders, they’re busy creating thriving business and industrial centers, ready infrastructure, top-notch public safety services and recreational and visual amenities that create good first impressions.
She shared several accomplishments that reflect well for the year ahead and beyond
Arlington hit an economic development milestone when it adopted the sub-area plan for the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Center. The thousands of acres centered around Arlington Municipal Airport and Smokey Point will be major job center and future hub of designated industrial activity.
The city also had the area designated by the governor as an Opportunity Zone, a new federal tax incentive offers the potential to attract more private investment dollars into Arlington’s advancing manufacturing and industrial sector.
In, 72 news businesses were licensed in Arlington, ranging from small business concerns to chains such as Bartells and Pilot Travel Center. The Planning Department issued 523 building permits in 2018, and 21 land use permits.
While Arlington didn’t make the final cut to be featured on the Hulu reality show, “Small Business Revolution – Main Street,” the experience united the business community – and there’s still plenty of prestige from being selected to the top 10 from among 10,000 communities.
Partnering with Marysville, the cities established a Smokey Point business committee. The group brought together the mayors and public safety staff to meet with businesses on an occasional basis to discuss public safety issues impacting their livelihood, and how initiatives such as the new Embedded Social Worker program is impacting loitering, vagrancy and homelessness.
Tolbert said Arlington is maintaining the city’s curb appeal through things like public art, in keeping with the community’s reputation as an art town, with leadership from the Arlington Arts Council. The colorful “Steelies” fish installed in the medians along 67th Avenue are one example.
In other economic news, the city also became a Washington Main Street affiliate, and has also secured state capital projects funding for the Howell “Old Shell station” downtown to redevelop into an innovation center and pocket park.
In Public Works, Arlington Valley Road tops the list of road projects, with its scheduled opening in March. Tolbert said the road was designed to get freight from industries located there back to the freeway without having to congest 67th and 204th Street. The $4.3 million project includes $2.8 million in outside grants.
Speaking of 204th, a roundabout east of Highway 9 is in the plans, and the public will soon have an opportunity to share their ideas about it.
Another project slated along major corridor is a traffic light in Island Crossing on the westernmost tip of the triangle where the highway meets Smokey Point Boulevard near the Pilot Travel Center. The interim signal will provide safety for motorists and semi-trucks accessing the area while the city and other partners look for a more long-term solution.
In 2018, the city coordinated water main replacement and upgrades with pavement preservation projects. “That way we’re not tearing up new roads,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert applauded the first-year efforts of the Embedded Social Worker program and what the team is doing, working with organizations such as the Arlington Community Resource Center, to help get the opioid-addicted, homeless and other with mental illness out of the camps and on the road to a better life through wrap-around services.
Most types of property crimes decreased in Arlington in 2018. Robberies, burglaries, theft, vehicle theft, malicious mischief and shoplifting all saw double-digit declines. While domestic violence rose 4 percent, the city is launching a new program through Bridge Coordination Services for a domestic violence coordinator to be a liaison between victims of domestic violence, prosecution and police.
An ambulance utility fee carried out in 2018 has enabled the city to earmark more funds to meet public safety staffing needs. Police will add two new officers in 2019 and a third in 2020, moving toward more time focused on pro-active policing, Tolbert said. The city Fire Department added three new firefighter/EMTs.
The city has also renegotiated EMS contracts with neighboring rural fire districts that are based more accurately on real cost of service study findings, helping put an end to the city subsidizing those vital services for district hard-pressed to fund them fully due in part to caps on operating levies.
Tolbert said Arlington benefitted from a strong economy in 2018.
Retail sales taxes were up about 12 percent, due mainly to new businesses that moved into the area and sales taxes related to the growth that is happening.
“These are what we refer to as one-time revenues because we can’t be guaranteed to see that every year, so we dedicate those one-time revenues into capital improvements and purchases,” Tolbert said. “Our philosophy is using one-time revenues for one-time expenses.”
Along with economic development and public safety, fiscal sustainability is the third principle that guides the city’s efforts, important to the city’s focus on transparency and accountability.
Tolbert said Arlington received another clean audit for 2018, the reserve fund has been fully restored to policy-set levels, utility rates were not increased for the sixth straight year, while ballfield and other user fees were increased in order to have more funds for future maintenance and repairs.
The city also reduced its debt by $2.7 million.
Strong culture of volunteerism. She cited the new band stage in Legion Park that was built by volunteers and paid for through community donations and tourism grant funds.
Overall, we recorded a total of more than 2,950 volunteer hours.
“That’s more than an hour for every one of our residents,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert also took the opportunity to commend city departments and crews for their response to the recent major snowstorms in keeping main roads cleared and residents information about public safety and utility-related matters.