Tacoma could provide planning services to the town of Ruston in the near future. Conversations have been held between representatives of both city governments.
On May 5 Ruston Town Council voted to terminate its agreement with the Seattle office of engineering firm Huitt-Zollars, which has provided planning services to the town for years.
During recent meetings, the firm’s billing practices have been criticized by several council members as well as Mike Cohen, the developer doing the Stack Hill and Point Ruston projects.
Mayor Michael Transue has been supportive of the firm and said he preferred using a peer review process to assess the quality of the firm’s work.
Jennifer Forbes, the town’s legal counsel, informed the council that the termination will become effective prior to their next meeting May 19. As reaching an agreement with Tacoma will take time, as well as a vote of Tacoma City Council, she warned the council that there likely would be a gap when Ruston has no entity handling planning.
Councilmember Jim Hedrick said he shared Forbes’ concerns. “Let’s call this what it is – a vendetta against Huitt-Zollars,” he declared.
Mayor Michael Transue noted several Ruston Town Council members met with city of Tacoma staff. Meanwhile, he had a meeting with Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson. Transue discussed separation of the legislative and executive branches, and expressed his desire that Ruston council members should be discussing this with Tacoma council members.
He said the actions of Ruston council members make town government appear fragmented.
Transue said he and Anderson discussed a 45-day process, which would likely culminate in an interlocal agreement.
Town Councilmember Dan Albertson responded to Hedrick’s comment. He said this is not a vendetta against the firm, but rather a necessary action to ensure Ruston has competent, timely planning services.
“The complaints are all across the board,” he said about the firm.
Albertson said Tacoma city staff had planned to bring the topic to a Ruston study session in late April. He said that was held off due to Transue’s meetings with Anderson.
Albertson said he wanted to line up an agreement with Tacoma that would be in place by the time Huitt-Zollars was out. “You can’t complain when we find someone else and he pulls the rug out from under us.”
Transue said the deputy director of Tacoma’s Public Works Department called him with questions as to whether Tacoma would also be taking over sewer services for Ruston.
The idea of Ruston being annexed by Tacoma some day is occasionally brought up in town council meetings. Transue pondered to what extent Ruston can contract for services from Tacoma and remain independent. “At what point in time do the lines cross?” he mused. “At what point will they say, ‘come on in.’”
Councilmember Wayne Stebner said Huitt-Zollars did adequate work, but their rates are too high. He said the city of Tacoma had made an offer to provide planning services in the past, but Ruston had not expressed serious interest.
The council voted 4-1 on terminating its arrangement with Huitt-Zollars, with Hedrick casting the dissenting vote.
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