Why DuPont Needs Commercial Development - an interview with Mayor Courts
As we continue to publish our interview with Mayor Courts, we were asked about commercial development within Dupont. So we asked, "Why does Dupont need commercial development?" This is his response to why Dupont needs commercial development, the history and the benefits.
Mayor Courts: It’s October and November 2012, during my first year on City Council. We are holding numerous budget workshops with Council Members Penny Coffey, Roger Westman, Larry Wilcox, John Ehrenreich, Kathy Trotter, and Linda Jordan with Mayor Michael Grayum. DuPont, along with the rest of the world, is many years into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Home prices have plummeted, most of the commercial property in DuPont remains undeveloped or is vacant. As a Council we sat at the table with a large white board crossing off positions and services in the City to get down to a budget we could afford. Watering Center Drive was a $100k expense we cut to save a police position. Public Works was cut almost in half. Our parks and green spaces were allowed to go fallow; our level of public safety was dangerously low, almost all maintenance was deferred. In City Hall, half the offices were unoccupied. That is the financial situation I walked into when I became a City Council Member.
We survived that period by tightening our belts, and not spending more than we had; it meant cutting costs everywhere we could. During this period, DuPont resembled something much closer to a housing development than a full-service city for a few years. As we recovered, your Council and Mayor adopted fiscal policies to better protect us in the future. We established three reserve funds with levels directed by code: a general fund year-end fund balance, contingency fund and rate stabilization fund. We re-established an equipment repair and replacement fund (ER&R) to ensure we could maintain and replace our equipment on schedule without increased debt or taxes. We refinanced the Civic Center debt, saving over a hundred thousand dollars in interest, annually. We changed the City’s health care plan to save over $100,000 per year, moved our Municipal Court and Jail away from Pierce County saving another approximately $200,000 per year. This is how I and other responsible leaders faced the challenges of that time and found good long-term solutions for the City.
Today we are enjoying the longest period of economic prosperity in recent history. 32% of our general fund comes from revenue generated by residential properties, the remainder comes from commercial and external sources. Today we have more diverse revenue sources than ever before. How long will the current prosperity last? None of us know, but most experts believe we are due for another economic downturn sooner rather than later. How do we prepare ourselves for that inevitable time? The policies we have adopted are a good start. Much like your personal savings, diversification is another good choice. The City does that by continuing along a path supporting the development of property long identified for commercial development.
I drove thru downtown Fife this week (thanks to an I-5 backup not a scenic choice). Fife has a population close to ours but a general fund (property taxes, sales taxes and other fees to fund normal operations of a city) of over $100 million annually, compared to ours which is just below $9 million annually. Do I, or anyone, really, want DuPont to look like Fife? Absolutely not! Fife looks like one giant car and RV sales lot. I could not see any green spaces and it did not look like anyplace I wanted to live, no matter how much money they have.
So how do we achieve a good balance and protect the quality of life in our City while also protecting our financial future? How do we respect property rights while addressing traffic and open spaces? How do we grow services and amenities while keeping our taxes low? These are serious questions and, in a way, what this election is about.
My opponent’s position is to halt development and “tear down warehouses”. That is neither a realistic position (illegal under many state and federal laws, not to mention our Constitution but sure sounds great) nor a very helpful one. I advocate for a more thoughtful approach.
Since 1985 the Northwest Landing development in DuPont was based on a model that specified our land broken into thirds, one third each for residential, greenspaces and commercial. This model is captured in our Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Codes. Today, outside of future development in the area of the Cal-Portland gravel mine, and the potential to build some residential in the Old Fort Lake area, our residential land is built out, our greenspaces are established, but we retain a reserve of several hundred acres of undeveloped commercial property. The undeveloped commercial property is in private ownership, not public. The owners have rights, much like we as homeowners do. Much of the land is limited in use by legal/binding decrees related to soil contamination. The process we held from 2016 through 2018 that developed a sub-area plan, zoning codes and development regulations for the Old Fort Lake Area is a perfect example of how we accept and acknowledge future development while shaping it in a way that enhances our City, protects our quality of life while allowing for economically viable development. This is also how we create diversity and depth to our economy that allows us to flourish. This is also how we create good family wage jobs that will allow for people to live and work in DuPont.
My experience on your City government for the past 7 plus years has taken me through a period of economic hardship to one of prosperity. I have seen how a Council and Mayor can work together to face current challenges while establishing a path forward for a brighter future. We are on that path; we should stay on it. To do otherwise is shortsighted and will harm our future and subject the City to years of legal battles that we would be destined to lose and leave us poorly prepared for the next economic downturn. The plan established over 30 years ago for the growth of DuPont is a good plan- all we need to do is update it from time to time. Much of the details have changed but the basic plan remains sound. I support that plan and with your vote will continue to support it with the Council and your help.
Discover Dupont: Thank you for your response to this question. It is important for the citizens of Dupont to know the background and facts regarding this issue.