Monday, February 23, 2015

TPU Board to Present Proposed Rate Changes at Public Meeting

The Public Utility Board invites the public to attend a information session on the proposed rate increases on Tuesday, February 24 at the TPU Building Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. 

This round-table will feature a TPU Staff presentation on how the rates are determined and allow time for public comment.

The proposed adjustments include the following:

  • Rate increase of an estimated average of $2.20 per month for Tacoma Power residential customers in 2015.
  • Tacoma Water residential customers who live in Tacoma will see an estimated average increase of about $2.60 per month that includes a flat monthly fee of about $1 included in their bill to cover the cost of fire hydrant service.
  • Tacoma Water residential customers who live outside of Tacoma will see an estimated increase of about $2.10 per month.
The Public Utilities Board encourages all business and residential stakeholders to attend so that they can hear input on how the proposed changes will affect you. If approved the City Council will vote in March and the proposed changes in rates will go into effect April 1.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Senate Transportation Package Detailed

The first public hearings on the Transportation Package revenue bills is Wednesday, Feb. 18, at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Transportation Committee. AWB’s government affairs staff is lining up panels of business representatives to testify on those bills.  A number of our Grassroots Alliance partners will also be testifying.

For your information, here are details about the various bills:

Revenue bills:
SB 5987  Concerning transportation revenue
SB 5988 Concerning additive transportation funding and appropriations
SB 5989 Authorizing bonds for transportation funding

Reform bills:
SB 5990 Transferring certain state sales and use taxes collected on transportation projects to the connecting Washington account.
Requires that sales and use tax on transportation projects be transferred to the Connecting Washington Account (within the Motor Vehicle Fund).
Becomes effective on only new-law revenue projects upon becoming a law.
Becomes fully effective on all other transportation projects starting with the 2019-2021 biennium.

SB 5991 Concerning activities at the department of transportation funded by the environmental legacy stewardship account.
Designates 20% starting in the 2015-2017 biennium from the ELSA account for WSDOT stormwater legacy projects and culvert projects.

SB 5992 Modifying certain requirements for ferry vessel construction.
Requires WSF to use a design-build, fixed price contract.
Design and Coastguard approval must be complete before construction begins.
WSF must hire an Independent Owners Representative to manage ferry contract(s).
Initial bids will have a Build in WA requirement, but if they are all above 5% of the engineer’s estimate, the contract will be rebid and out-of-state companies may bid.
The project budget may not contain more than 5% of the fixed price contract as contingency.

SB 5993 Concerning public works contracts and projects.
Changes WSDOT apprenticeship requirements from 15% to 13%, and makes the apprenticeship provision apply only to projects costing $3 million or more.
Percentage decrease in apprenticeship requirements sunsets in ten years (2015-2025).
Makes prevailing wage surveys able to be submitted electronically.
Excludes the payment of prevailing wages to off-site workers involved in the manufacture or fabrication of nonstandard items used or incorporated into the project on new law transportation projects.
Restore funding for helmets to hardhats program.

SB 5994 Concerning permits for state transportation corridor projects.
Limits the use of a local hearing officer to only those appeals of critical area permits where WSDOT consents - otherwise, appeal goes to the superior court.
Declares that WSDOT is not required to obtain various local zoning permits for construction staging areas related to the construction of state highways.
Provides that only WSDOT or another permittee may appeal building permits issued by cities, towns, or counties for temporary buildings supporting highway construction.
"To the greatest extent practicable" permits must be issued to WSDOT within 90 days of filing the permit application.
Exempts highway maintenance and certain minor highway improvements from the Shorelines Management Act.
Exempts projects from the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) if they are categorically excluded under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Excludes WSDOT construction material that does not threaten human or environmental health from the definition of solid waste under RCW 70.95.030.

SB 5995 Modifying the transportation system policy goal of mobility.
Adds "congestion relief and improved freight mobility" to the existing Mobility Goal.

SB 5996 Concerning Washington state department of transportation projects.
Addressing the permitting of certain transportation projects (ESHB 1978).
Creates a seven-step required permitting process for all transportation projects. undertaken by WSDOT that require the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Requires the Dept. of Ecology to undertake rule-making and convene a work group regarding local permitting of transportation projects under the Shoreline Management Act.
Directs WSDOT to continue using the multiagency permit program and places various requirements upon the staff and the program.
Requires WSDOT environmental staff to develop all environmental documentation and oversee project work in order to ensure compliance.
Removed sections 10 and 13 in previous version to 520 and AWV project and right-sizing provisions.

SB 5997 Concerning transportation project delivery.
Encourages WSDOT to use Design Build on projects over $10 million.
Creates Expert Review Panel to include two outside experts, WSDOT, AGC, and ACEC to make recommendations for improvement of Design Build Project delivery.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 WorkWell Awards Designees Announced

WorkWell Award designees were recognized Friday, February 13, at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s Chamber Luncheon Featuring: WorkWell Awards – A Celebration of the Healthy Workplace event held at the Pacific Grill Events Center, 1530 Pacific Ave.,Tacoma, Wash., 98402.

While the luncheon focused on the WorkWell program awards, which recognizes local employers who made a commitment to three designated areas of healthy eating, physical activity and tobacco-free, there were also presentations on the recently passed City of Tacoma Mandatory Paid Time Off ordinance and information surrounding the Minimum Wage discussion.  

Andy Cherullo, Finance Director for the City of Tacoma and David Schroedel of Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, spoke on the Mandatory Paid Time Off Ordinance recently approved by the City of Tacoma.  Bruce Beckett, Director of Government Affairs for the Washington Restaurant Association presented information regarding current discussions around the issue of Minimum Wage.

The Chamber celebrated the strides Pierce County businesses took to make health and wellness a priority in their work place through three levels of recognition: Gold, Silver and Bronze WorkWell Awards as well as the WorkWell Happy Heart Achievement Award which highlighted an organization’s policies, programs and/or activities that supports employee health and well-being.

AHBL, Inc., Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington, MultiCare Health System and Nisqually Red Wind Casino were recognized as Happy Heart Achievement designees.

Gold designees AHBL, Inc., Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington, MultiCare Health System, Nisqually Red Wind Casino, Tacoma Community House and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department implemented changes to all three workforce health categories: healthy eating, physical activity and tobacco-free.

Silver designee Rapport Benefits Group implemented changes to two of the three workforce health categories.

In addition, the Active Transportation Advocate Award, sponsored by Downtown: On the Go! was presented to MultiCare Health System.  The award recognizes an organization that provides encouragement and incentives to their employees for using active transportation.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

President Praises Transpo Package

Tom Pierson, President and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber stated, “We applaud the bi-partisan leadership in the State Senate with the release of their transportation package. This significant step moves us closer to ensuring more jobs in our state -- we must make investments to be more globally competitive.”

UPDATE: 2-17-2015
Details of the Senate Transportation Package available HERE.

The State Senate Leadership’s package includes $1.9 billion for completion of SR 167 and another $450 million for improvements to the I-5 corridor adjacent to JBLM.  Completion of 167 will provide jobs to our workers and increase our global competitiveness.  The I-5 corridor serves both our tremendous interstate commerce and our region’s largest employer – JBLM.

It would also provide authority for Sound Transit to seek a ballot measure for ST-3, as well as local options for other needs in the region. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Metro Area Now in "Attainment"

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their acceptance of a 10-year Maintenance Plan for the Tacoma-Pierce County Fine Particle nonattainment area (aka “Smoke Reduction Zone”), and announced the area will be re-designated to “attainment” with the daily federal air quality standard for fine particle pollution. 

Thank you all for your contributions to get Pierce County to this healthy air milestone.   Some of you may recall that attainment is a long process, including two 10-year maintenance plans.  While this milestone is important, there is still have more work to maintain clean, healthy air in Pierce County and prevent backsliding.  For wood smoke, this work includes the actions identified:  ensuring old, uncertified wood stoves are removed from the area, and enhancing both the education and enforcement of air quality burn bans so that more people follow them. 

Below is a joint statement from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the Department of Ecology that addressing questions about EPA’s announcement.  If you have any questions about the redesignation or 10-year maintenance plan, please feel free to contact Craig Kenworthy at (206) 689-4004 or Kathy Strange at (206)689-4095. 

EPA’s redesignation of the area will be effective next month.  We would like celebrate together, and recognize your contributions to this milestone at an informal March gathering.  Please stay tuned for an email invitation soon.

EPA Updates Smoke Reduction Zone Designation

TACOMA, WA – Efforts to reduce unhealthy fine particle pollution in the Tacoma/Pierce County Smoke Reduction Zone area reached a milestone today when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved a 10-year action plan and announced the area will be re-designated as in “attainment” with federal air quality standards.  In 2009, the EPA listed the Smoke Reduction Zone as a nonattainment area for violating health-based federal air quality standards for fine particle pollution in colder winter months, mostly due to wood smoke. Nonattainment carries economic, business and health impacts.

“This is an important step, but our work is not done,” said Craig Kenworthy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. “We must continue to maintain healthy air quality in the area in order to stay in federal attainment.”

A task force made up of Tacoma and Pierce County leaders, wood burners and community members assembled in 2011 to develop a roadmap for returning the area into attainment. Their recommendations became the action plan for Puget Sound Clean Air and other local agencies:
     Use incentives to help residents replace their polluting, uncertified wood stoves and inserts.
     Increase overall compliance with burn bans by enhancing and increasing enforcement.
     Implement a Stove Rule prohibiting uncertified wood burning devices after September 30, 2015, in the Smoke Reduction Zone only (residents who qualify may obtain an exemption if their uncertified wood stove is their only adequate source of heat).
     Execute an ambitious outreach and education campaign to help the public comply with burn bans and remove old, polluting uncertified devices.

“The removal of old, polluting, uncertified wood stoves is part of the EPA-approved plan,” continued Kenworthy. “Without it, we run the risk of returning to levels of fine particle pollution that are above the health-based standard.”

The Washington Department of Ecology worked in partnership with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to submit a plan to the EPA that outlines how to keep the area in attainment for the coming 10 years.

“Meeting air quality standards is vital to public health,” said Stu Clark, air quality program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. “We’ll continue to remain focused on air quality and meeting the federal standards.”

Multiple local agencies and jurisdictions came together to implement the recommendations of the task force. “Ultimately," concluded Kenworthy, "re-designation was possible because Pierce County residents followed burn bans and removed their old uncertified stoves.”  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tacoma Council Adopts Mandatory Paid Leave

On Tuesday, January 27th, after a marathon council meeting lasting nearly six hours and including 35 pages of amendments, Tacoma’s City Council passed (8-1) an ordinance requiring all businesses operating within the City to provide a minimum of 3 days of paid time off to employees beginning February 1st, 2016.  

Early versions of an ordinance brought forward by paid leave proponents suggested businesses be responsible for providing employees with up to 14 days of paid time off.  The Chamber made it clear that new mandates will make it harder for businesses to meet their employees’ actual needs rather than those thought up by others.  Furthermore, if the Council is truly focused on employees, it must minimize expensive tracking and regulatory burdens to ensure limited funds are actually spent on providing benefits rather than administration.

Thankfully, enough of the Council heard these concerns to streamline the tracking and incorporate flexibility.  The 3-day ordinance passed by Council also allows for employers and employees with unique needs options like on-call pay programs, shift swapping, minimum hours worked, and front loaded benefits.

While this phase of the paid leave discussion has wrapped up, we are preparing for the next round.  Unusual for Tacoma, the Council has decided to implement a rule making process after passing the Ordinance meaning there are numerous questions about the details.  Once these rules are published, we will be hosting sessions to get businesses up to speed.  At a minimum, all businesses should plan on reviewing their personnel policies and handbooks to ensure they meet the allowable usage requirements in the ordinance.

Previously, the Chamber has shared status updates on this issue.  We will continue to provide updates as we can.