Amidst all the talk about a change of government in Liberty Lake, not to mention a testy clash for a new mayor, there is still the matter of next year’s budget to address.
After a budget process that generated rancor among citizens last fall for its proposed cuts to the municipal library and golf course, Mayor Wendy Van Orman is ahead of the curve this year, presenting her proposed budget for 2012 two weeks ahead of the state mandate. At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Van Orman outlined the revenue/expenditure gameplan for 2012, highlighting a 3-percent reduction in the city’s current tax on phone, cable, electric and gas services. The city installed a 6-percent utility tax late last year in anticipation of a $700,000 budget deficit.
The tax was projected to generate between $825,000 and $1.2 million for 2011. By the end of September, revenue was reported at $900,000. A utility tax task force comprised of local businesses has spoken out against the tax, saying it has negatively impacted the commercial environment.
On Tuesday, Van Orman defended the tax again, pointing to “declining sales tax and decreased property tax value” as two of the main reasons for implementation. In her report, Van Orman said sales tax revenue for the year had been 14.5 percent higher than expected in 2011, an encouraging trend that contributed to the proposal to cut the utility tax in half.
Van Orman also provided an overview of municipal departments, from the police department to the library, describing how the city has been “very successful in sustaining community services through the recession.” The city has brought on a golf pro, parks and open space superintendent and financial director over the past year and opened an arboretum near City Hall.
The preliminary 2012 budget includes no increase in property tax, leaving the city at a fee of $1.79 per $1,000 of assessed property value – the second lowest rate in Spokane County.
Van Orman said the city would concentrate on utilizing revenue from the utility tax to pay down the debt service, currently hovering around $4 million. The mayor mentioned debt on a 6.4-acre piece of property, mentioned as the site for a future city center, as well as the existing bond on City Hall as two possibilities for the revenue.
The first draft of the 2012 budget also includes the shift of $275,000 from the general fund to cover future street projects and other capital improvements. In discussing the move, Van Orman mentioned the potential construction of a library branch in the burgeoning River District on the north side of town as well as a possible community center on the 6.4 acres tract at Meadowwood Lane.
Looking ahead to next year, Van Orman recommended that the city form a new committee comprised of residents, business owners and City Council members who would review municipal finance issues on a monthly basis leading up to the 2013 budget process.
Next year’s budget will also include a 2-percent merit increase for qualifying city employees; the purchase of new police vehicle; salary and benefits in the amount of $160,000 for a city administrator and $50,000 for capital improvements to the library.
Van Orman encouraged those on the City Council to study the budget document in preparation for the next meeting on Nov. 1. That agenda will include individual department directors discussing, in Van Orman’s words, “what has been accomplished (in the budget) and what they want to accomplish.”
In other council news:
- Council Members Cris Kaminskas and Judi Owens spoke on increasing awareness of regular mammograms in recognizing October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
- Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson presented an overview of his agency’s recent accreditation process. The department became one of only 144 agencies in the world to earn the honor in August. Thompson said the standing is “all about a commitment to continuous quality improvement.”
- Van Orman noted that the position of city consultant, discussed at the last council meeting on Oct. 4, had been posted with applications being received until Oct. 21. The mayor said the applications will be reviewed next week with three finalists to be announced at the Nov. 1 council meeting. The consultant would be in place on an interim basis to help with potential changes to the city’s form of government that could involve the addition of a city administrator or city manager.