Christmas carols, Santa hats and even a baby Jesus doll joined Monday’s City Council meeting as a group of dedicated Gig Harbor residents gathered to protest and petition the city to allow the return of the Nativity scene alongside the Christmas Tree, erected this year in Donkey Creek Park.
Controversy arose after news that the Nativity scene — traditionally placed beside the tree in Skansie Brothers Park by Gig Harbor resident John Skansi — would not be on display beside the holiday tree this year following the city receiving a Nov. 16 letter threatening legal action from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Despite the rain, protesters gathered outside the Civic Center before the Council meeting to sing carols and demonstrate their support of the Nativity scenes return.
The group, along with state Rep. Jesse Young, then joined the meeting and used the public comment period to voice both its support for the return of the Nativity scene and its displeasure at the scene not being placed in the first place.
Prior to the public comment, Mayor Jill Guernsey read from a statement that had been posted earlier that day on the city’s Facebook page.
“We understand the frustration of many of our citizens that there is no nativity display next to the City’s lighted tree in Donkey Creek Park,” the statement reads in part. “We agree this is an important issue and we do not like the prospect of having an organization from out of state telling us what we can or cannot do...We chose not to expose our citizens to this kind of liability and therefore decided that for this year, we would not allow such a display in our public park. Citizens are of course free to put such displays on private property. In fact, we have encouraged the citizen who puts up this display to put it on private property this year.”
The council did not discuss or vote on the issue at the meeting, but will return after the new year to discuss the issue and take public input as a permit process is considered.
2017-18 biennial budget
After a lengthy and in-depth process, the Council voted to approve the 2017-18 biennial budget, with Councilmember Michael Perrow voting nay.
The budget was presented to council by finance director David Rodenbach.
Included in the budget is the addition of four police officers to the Gig Harbor Police Department, to be added over a two-year period.
“The City of Gig Harbor has experience tremendous growth in recent years and that trend appears to be continuing,” Police Chief Kelly Busy said in a prepared statement. “Our police department has been stretched in our ability to provide the high quality public safety services our community has come to expect. The additional officer positions are a step toward maintaining that high level of service.”
The budget total is $142.9 million and includes the completion of the design and construction of the Harbor Hill Drive extension to Burnham.
“City staff has worked diligently to produce a fiscally prudent budget that makes critical investments in our police force, infrastructure, and improved City services for our residents,” Guernsey said in a release.
The city is funding the investments without tapping into its reserve funds or increasing taxes, the mayor said.
The budget will take effect on Jan. 1 and a full copy will soon be available at cityofgigharbor.net/finance.
Staff reports at the meeting included project updates to the Harbor Hill Drive extension and the construction for Lift Station 4B/Welcome Plaza.
City Engineer Steve Misiurak, along with Public Works Director Jeff Langhelm, provided a design update on the Harbor Hill Drive extension and received direction from the Council on specific design changes.
An update to the construction in Skansie Brothers Park for Lift Station 4B/Welcome Plaza was presented by Langhelm, who said that the majority of the underground work on the project has been completed.
The wet well and storage pipe have been installed and the building’s foundation has been put in place. He also noted that 18 piles have been placed to support the building, so that it will not sit on the ground.
Continuing work includes collaboration with the contractor to design removable posts for the sails alongside the plaza, work with the arts commission to design an artistic wrap or shield around an electrical panel that will be placed in the park, and the assembly of the wet well interior.
Langhelm noted that the concrete masonry walls of the building should be erected before the new year.
“It’s starting to take shape,” he said.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Gig Harbor Civic Center. A calendar of meetings with agendas can be found on the city’s website at cityofgigharbor.net.