After 12 years of service on the Bonney Lake City Council, former Councilman Mark Hamilton exited stage left after the Dec. 8 meeting, the last meeting of the 2015 year.
Justin Evans was sworn in as the new Position 2 council member alongside James Rackley, Tom Watson and Katrina Minton-Davis, who ran unopposed during the last election cycle.
Hamilton’s decision not to run for re-election this year was simple.
“I wanted to get some new blood on the council,” he explained. “After a while you get unopposed and most people feel they can’t run against you.”
Hamiltion first got on the council because he was concerned about the growth of the city, and that the city was growing so quickly that transportation issues were being overlooked.
“Most people run because they think they can help,” Hamilton said. “That’s why I ran.”
One of his early goals was to get the council to focus on the Fennel Creek Trail and get that developed for the city.
Even though this was one of Hamilton’s first project goals when getting on the council in 2003, the Fennel Creek project started in 2011 when the city purchased the right-of-way rights.
The reason the project took so long to get started, Hamilton said, was because all the council members have their own agendas and are constantly cajoling each other to get funding to come their way.
“Once you get there, and Justin will find this out very quickly, is that you hit this brick wall, because no one wants to do what you want to do,” he said. “That’s what you find out right away; there are huge needs, huge wants, and there’s limited revenue in the city…. That’s what you spend most of your time on, jostling back and forth, especially in the general fund. Trying come up with enough revenue to do what you want to do.”
Hamilton’s first big project – and big success – actually had nothing to do with being on the council, though being a council member did help in discussing with the Post Office about getting Bonney Lake its own zip code.
“When I ran, there was this group that wanted the city to get its own zip code,” Hamilton said, remarking that prior to his election, the city used the same zip code as Sumner, 98352. This group, Hamilton explained, wanted the city to have its own zip code in order to solidify a community identity.
“The problem was, this had nothing to do with the city. It was an issue for the Post Office,” he said.
Luckily for Hamilton, he just happened to have an inside connection inside the U.S. Postal service – his wife worked in management and operations and knew all the ins and outs of zip coding.
And as it turned out, there was a strong case based on efficiency for Bonney Lake having its own zip code.
“So she gave me all this inside information about what it would take to make the argument to the big cheeses at the Postal Service to get our own zip code,” he said.
With City Administrator Don Morrison, they both managed to make contact with a regional manager of the Postal Service, who eventually came out with his staff to hear their case.
After listening to Morrison’s and his presentation, Hamilton could tell the manager knew he knew too much, especially when Hamilton picked out the specific zip code that was free to be used – 98391.
“So I think the guy caught on about this – he knew,” Hamilton said. “But lo and behold, after the hour meeting, they went away, got back to us, and we got the zip code.”
Not every decision council members make for the city is always clear-cut good or bad, and sometimes the final impact of a hard decision isn’t known until years down the road, as Hamilton discovered when the city decided to expand Allan Yorke Park back in 2004.
“Some days I regret the decision that was made, but some days I appreciated it,” he said.
A 13-acre parcel next to Allan Yorke Park, owned by Schurr Brothers Construction, was going to be rezoned in order to build more than 100 duplexes.
But in May 2004, after the rezone was approved, the council doubled back on their initial decision and condemned the land to expand Allan Yorke Park. Hamilton was one of the six council members to approve the condemnation.
The condemnation was approved that August, but it came with a $6 million price tag.
“It was a tough, tough decision,” Hamilton said. “And it’s hurt the city, $6 million dollars – that could have gone into parks.
“It’s going to be worth it,” he continued. “But you think, boy, maybe I shouldn’t have made that decision. Knowing what I know now, I may have voted slightly different.”
Knowing what to do when the recession hit was another challenge Hamilton and the council had to manage.
“We did some tremendous cutting, and that was difficult, but we didn’t do a hatchet job to it,” Hamilton said. “We sculpted it. We still have the same structure of a city as we did. We haven’t changed that much.”
Hamilton said the city was able to use reserve money from the growth boom they had to get through the recession without having to cut major city services, but those reserves are coming to an end.
“That fund balance has gone away, and expenditures are up,” he said. “So we are at a crux. Not this fiscal year, but probably the next biennium, when we will see some tough times. Now we will have to do some restructuring.”
After the council
Although he is no longer on the council, Hamilton will still be working with the city on projects he wants to see continue developing.
“I’m still going to be involved in things. I want to see the city move forward,” he said. “One of the problems with being on the City Council is you can’t really legally communicate with other members unless you’re in a meeting.”
“You can call one or two of them, but you can’t call all of them,” Hamilton continued. “But now I can call them all.”
One of the projects Hamilton would like to see started is the merging of the Bonney Lake Police Department with Puyallup’s, and maybe even Sumner’s, in order to save money.
“The big kahuna in the general fund is the police force. That’s the same in all cities,” he said. “We should seriously look at a metropolitan police force.”
Merging the police forces, Hamilton said, would help reduce redundancy in labor and the chain of command at the price of losing some community identity.
Another project Hamilton wants to keep an eye on is the Washington State University Demonstration Forest development – specifically, how the city decides to manage any remaining forest.
Hamilton said that while the plan is still very flexible, the current idea is to split the park in half; the south-western half of the park would be developed for stormwater management, and the north-eastern half would be ballparks. This would leave none, or almost none, of the original forest left.
Hamilton’s idea would be to instead build the ballparks over the storm water drains and ditches, which would save about 20 acres of forest out of the total 40 acres the city owns.
Putting the ballfields over the storm water drains would make the project more expensive, but Hamilton said he is looking at whether the project could be at least partly funded through the city’s storm water utility fund, and not just the general fund.
“You have to look at the long term,” he said. “Yeah, you could cut all the trees down and it would be cheaper. But long term, 20, 30 years, you still have the standing forests and the ballfields. You have both.”