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$1.5 Million: Nothin’ But Net

in Featured/Government and Politics
Liberty Lake driving range

Based on the title one might think that I have my sports jargon mixed up. However, this story is about golf. Specifically, it is about a proposal for $1.5 million to replace and extend the netting which surrounds the driving range in Liberty Lake.

Lets start with some background and numbers

trailheadThe City of Liberty Lake owns and operates Trailhead golf course. Opened in 1973, the course was acquired by the City about 15 years ago to provide recreation to the residents and preserve the open space. According to the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, it appears the golf course will profit about $30,000*.

It is interesting to note the Facilities – Outside Labor & Materials, Golf-other Improvements, Golf-Furniture, Computers&Equip, Golf Cars – Furniture, Computers& Equip expenses are estimated at zero for 2018. Most of these expenses had balances in previous years. Golf-Other Improvements expense had a cost of $30,000 in 2017 and includes a note which states, “Waiting on Irrigation Estimate”. The cost  for the irrigation is expected to come in between $850,000 and $1.2 million.

Now lets talk about nets

The net surrounding the driving range has been described as too short for the distance of the range and too short on the sides. This means it is possible for golf balls to travel outside the perimeter of the range.

Golf Ball CrashThis doesn’t seem like a big deal. So what if a golf ball breaks a window, dents a car, or damages any property? The percentage of property damage in relation to the number of balls hit each day barely registers. Many times the balls hit City-owned buildings. Costs for repairing the potential damage is relatively very low. A drop in the bucket of the City’s overall budget.

Unfortunately, it is possible (still unlikely) that there could be personal injury from a ball leaving the perimeter of the range. The current liability insurance provider is not willing to assume this level of risk and would like to have the risk mitigated. Costs associated with potential litigation and personal injury could bankrupt a city the size of Liberty Lake.

A risk assessment summary from October 2017 states:

The city has a high liability exposure for this driving range with the number of golf balls being hit over/through the fencing. It is only a matter of time before someone gets hit by a golf ball causing serious injury or death. We recommend following the recommendations by the specialist you are working with concerning these items, including his recommendations regarding the metal poles and the height of the netting. We highly recommend the City begin the process of budgeting for these repairs in the near future.

The report goes on to state, “There will be a follow-up within 45 (forty-five) days to ensure that items identified in this report have been corrected.”

In order to limit liability, one solution is to raise the nets around the perimeter of the driving range. Seems like a simple and straight forward solution. Like most improvement projects, it is not that simple.

To accommodate the required height, the poles supporting the net would need to be replaced with metal poles versus the current wood poles. The estimated base cost for this is $1,370,600 plus sales tax and options which easily bring this project to over $1.5 million.

Back to the numbers

Liberty Lake is considering the solution of spending $1.5 million on the driving range nets and between $850,000 and $1.2 million on the golf irrigation this year. Neither expenditure increases revenue or provides a service that doesn’t already exist. Just limiting the liability and replacing the irrigation system would total over $2.5 million dollars.

Here are some 2018 City of Liberty Lake numbers for comparison:

  • Law Enforcement: $2.2 Million
  • Library: $505,000
  • Streets Operations: $1.1 Million
  • Operating Revenue: $7.6 Million
  • General Expenditures: $9.1 Million

Imagine this

Imagine you own a lemonade stand. You sold $900 per year in cookies at your stand. Because you have good cookies customers also buy $2,200 per year in lemonade and $500 in bottled water. Then imagine the health department comes by and tells you you have to spend $15,000 to upgrade your oven to avoid someone getting sick on your cookies. It doesn’t change the flavor or add any benefit to your productivity or sales, but is required if you want to keep selling cookies.

Would you keep selling cookies knowing that it would take over 16 years of selling cookies to earn that much in cookie revenue (not profit) to pay for the new oven?

Or, would you shut down your cookie operation and look for a more profitable product to compliment your lemonade and bottled water?
These are the type of questions city councilmembers have to answer.

The driving range (cookies) will bring in about $90,000 in fees this year. Green fees and season passes (lemonade) should bring in about $220,000 this year. The pro shop (bottled water) is expected to sell $50,000 in 2018. A cost for the new driving range net (oven) is expected to be $1,500,000. It would take over 16 years of driving range fees just to pay for the net assuming you had no other direct expenses or capital expenditures and did not borrow money with interest to make the purchase.

Are there other, less expensive solutions?

City Council is holding a special meeting on December 12, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m to help answer this question. The meeting will be a workshop for Council to better understand their options. The meeting is open to the public. It is my understanding that public comment will be minimal as this meeting’s purpose is to allow the Council to discuss, better understand the issue, and work on solutions.

Keep in mind you may always contact councilmembers to share your opinion or ideas. Here is a link to their contact info: http://www.libertylakewa.gov/184/City-Council

Some of the things they are likely to discuss at the special meeting:

  • Does the entire perimeter need to be rebuilt from the ground up?
  • Is there a different insurance underwriter who would assume the current risk?
  • Could the projected be done in phases over a number of years?
  • Is it worth $1.5 million so that a few residents can practice their swing?
  • Could the current nets be moved closer so they don’t need to be as tall?
  • Should we get more than one bid?
  • Does the city need a driving range?
  • Should the prices for all golf services be increased?
  • Are there other capital improvements which could benefit from $1.5 million and provide a benefit to residents?

Resident and councilmember-elect, Mike Kennedy, has two main questions he would like to have answered before making a recommendation. They are:

1. Do we (Liberty Lake) want to be in the golf course business?
2. If yes, what are the costs?

As a taxpayer and/or golfer, what are thoughts?


*Removed Unreserved Beginning Cash/Investments and Unreserved Ending Cash/Investments to arrive at $530,515 income minus $502,714 in expenses. Total is $27,801.

What’s next for Liberty Lake?

in Featured/Government and Politics
Country Vista campaign signs

Although they have yet to be certified, the elections are behind us. Facebook groups are relatively peaceful and candidate signage has been removed from the landscape.
So, what is next for Liberty Lake to discuss?
Here are my top 3 to keep an eye on:

  1. Pay attention to the Harvard Rd bridge project plan
  2. Keep an eye on the golf course netting replacement cost
  3. Make sure the city is spending the increased tax revenue on needs only

What are in your top 3 priorities for Liberty Lake?

Liberty Lake City Council Meeting Summary for 11-07-2017

in Featured/Government and Politics
Liberty Lake city hall

On Election Night, City Hall had a good citizen turnout (approx 45 in attendance, including some from Boy Scout Troop). The 2nd reading of the 2018 proposed budget provided lively discussion from the Mayor and CC members both for and against the increase in Property Tax. Staff reporting was a reiteration of what had been presented at the 10/17 meeting, which included noting that the 2018 Property Tax rate is $1.63/$1000 assessed value. Mayor Peterson reminded folks that when Liberty Lake first incorporated (2001) the Property Tax rate was $2.12/$1000. With almost $7 million needed for slated projects like the Harvard Street Bridge expansion, Orchard Park and much needed irrigation improvements, he encouraged passage of the budget. City Administrator Katy Allen reported that much of the future growth will occur in the River District and that residents deserve “equitable services” that must be maintained for all citizens of Liberty Lake. The proposed 2018 budget was passed by a vote of 4-2.

Reporting for the KPFF Consulting firm in charge of design work proposals for the Harvard Bridge expansion, David McMillan and others described the progress to date. For approximately $4.5 million (using 2020 dollar estimates) and taking 1 year, the Bridge will add an additional N Bound lane. There will be 2 lanes open during most of the construction, with very limited closures. There will be some impact to the I-90 westbound on-ramp, which will require the speed limit to be reduced to 60 mph. DOT is also looking at this. There is a planned 2018 “overlay” of the surface of the bridge area, with construction slated to begin by 2020. There is a Harvard Bridge Open House on Wednesday Nov 8th from 5-7 p.m. @ City Hall – all are invited/encouraged to attend. KPFF will have updates and design plans available at that time.

Christian Brothers Automotive was the highlighted business and Kris Kramer described the full repair/maintenance services offered, along with his happiness at being in our community, and gratitude to those in attendance whom he recognized as customers.

Amanda Tainio gave the 3rd quarter Planning & Building Services report. Permit application is “on par with 2016” and “planning activity is on record pace” with steady growth being a positive. Two employees left service, and Barbara Barker was introduced as the new Permit Technician.

Hugh Severs reported for the Finance Committee. There is a “sizable” cash surplus/balance with a possible $300,000 increase this year that will help fund upcoming projects, including the Harvard Bridge. Concerns include that almost 50% of revenues are coming from RV and Auto sales, which is not sustainable forever. The City needs to broaden its revenue base with the addition/inclusion of other businesses.

Dan Dunne gave the Public Safety report, lauding police and fire collaboration in a joint agreement that will ensure access to businesses after hours for emergencies. A new fire truck is already in service at Station 10 (Greenacres) and the Station’s opening is ahead of schedule. He praised the police department for increased service, safety and outreach in schools. Mr. Dunn also reported that the Central Valley School District report card showed high marks in school safety, suicide prevention and “scratch cooking” (using less canned/frozen/prepared foods) efforts.

The Library events are well attended, with “good support and enthusiasm” from participants and the community. There is an Open House Thursday Nov 9th @ 10 a.m.

Tom Agnew reported for the Liberty Lake Sewer & Water District and described recognition by the EPA for our region (Region 10) as “exceptional” for clean water and for bringing the base rate down by more than 50%.

No Planning Commission report and the Nov 8th meeting has been canceled.

City Administrator, Katy Allen reminded citizens that the comment periods are limited to 3 minutes and that there is now a countdown timer visible to the speaker and attendees to ensure “fairness and equity”.

The 1st deicing for our recent snowfall went well, using our own equipment/staff. Signing up for the “Notify Me” feature on the LL website will allow people to receive email messages that detail what zones are being deiced and plowed. Staff and CC members all encouraged citizens to sign up for “Notify Me” (124 have signed up so far).

During final comments, a citizen who resides in the Bitterroot Apartments asked the City to consider revising the recent ban on street parking, which had been caused by people leaving RVs, trailers and other vehicles for long periods of time on the road.

The Council Members went into executive session and the public meeting was adjourned.

Tomorrow is Election Day: 75% of Liberty Lake Voters Have Not Yet Submitted a Ballot

in Featured/Government and Politics
Liberty Lake voter turnout

Liberty Lake residents have until 8:00 PM tomorrow to get their ballots delivered. As of this morning, only 24.28% of issued ballots had been received by Spokane County.

Please Vote!

A ballot dropbox is located here: Liberty Lake Library Ballot Drop Box 23123 E Mission Avenue, Liberty Lake, WA 99019

Source: https://www.spokanecounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/16944

Liberty Lake City Council Candidate Q & A

in Candidate Corner/Featured/Government and Politics
Liberty Lake question and answer

Five questions were asked of each candidate running for office. The answers are in their own words to give each citizen the insight of the candidates running.
Click on the links below to read responses:

  1. Liberty Lake is one of the fastest growing areas in Eastern Washington. What can be done to help with growing pains?
  2. Citizens pool their money together in the form of taxes to provide services within the city. Please list the top 6 services in order of importance. Which areas need improvement?
  3. The Area Medium Income (AMI) in the City of Liberty Lake is currently $71,898. The Growth Management Act requires cities to provide affordable housing, the threshold is 60% of the AMI ($35,520 for a family of 3). Is there sufficient affordable housing in Liberty Lake? Please elaborate.
  4. Explain the importance of Economic Development within the city.
  5. What background do you have that will aid you in serving the community (education, boards, and volunteerism)?

Please remember to vote on November 7th, Tuesday either by mail or drop off at the Liberty Lake Library.

Why did you move to Liberty Lake?

in Featured/Opinion
Map with pin in Liberty Lake Washington

In a recent post about ideology, I stated that the most important criteria when looking for a place to live was low crime, good schools, and low traffic. After comparing Liberty Lake to some other cities, we found Liberty Lake fit our criteria and offered some other bonuses as well.

Here is an excerpt from a personal blog post I shared with my family and friends:

Some of the criteria for a new city included:

  • Small town but not too far from a city
  • Four seasons  (yes – we want some cold, snow, and rain)
  • Area has to have  many choices for outdoor activities
  • Close to snowboarding
  • Low cost of living
  • Not in California

Over the years, we have camped or driven through much of the Northwest and really like the surroundings. At one point Oregon and Utah were candidates. However, we have family near Spokane, Washington and thought it might be good to consider a location where we already know a few people. One of my cousins from the region suggested we check out Liberty Lake, WA. We took her advice and spent a few days there getting a feel for the community and it felt right. It also looked good on paper; fitting all the requirements for our new city.

A week after being in Liberty Lake I noted a few other bonuses and differences from our previous city.

I noticed a number of differences so far. Here are a few in no particular order:

  • Kids are everywhere; without parents, just riding bikes to the store or playing in the neighborhood.
  • Most kids ride their bikes without helmets.
  • Some kids drive a golf cart around the neighborhood.
  • Golf carts are everywhere and drive on the street and sidewalks.
  • The weather seems to change a lot throughout the day.
  • Air conditioners don’t seem to be standard features
  • Gasoline is much less per gallon.
  • Everyone drives slow
  • Drivers leave a lot of room between cars.
  • People don’t speed up when using a turn indicator.
  • Drivers seem to be very courteous and passive.
  • People in general don’t seem to be on guard. They are friendly and open.
  • The days are very long in the summer. It is only dark for about 6 hours in the night.
  • A little rain doesn’t stop people from running and bike riding.
  • Even in the very affluent areas with a Porsche dealer and Mercedes dealer down the street; there are few expensive cars.  Many expensive trucks, but very few high-end autos.
  • The DMV process is painless and efficient.
  • You can’t be in a hurry to go anywhere as people move slow and every transaction includes a friendly conversation.
  • When someone asked “How are you?” at the store they are not just being polite. They really want to know.
  • Many people here came from California.
  • Liquor taxes are very high… like 25%.
  • It is difficult to work with such nice scenery out the window.

About a year after moving to the area we took a road trip through over 30 states. We came home still thinking Liberty Lake is the best place to call home.

Over the past few years it seems many other people have learned about how great Liberty Lake is as well; as the population is growing quickly.

In the next few years, my hope is that Liberty Lake will still meet our basic criteria just with a lot more friendly faces.

Why did you move to Liberty Lake?

Bonus: Here is an excerpt from a city council retreat from August 2014

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