Graphs and granola bars greeted members of the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday for a daylong work session for an early look at the municipal budget headed into 2014.
The good news? Plenty of money for needed projects and ongoing services is on hand. The bad? There’s a large laundry list of “want to” – and even a few “have to” – items that are unfunded headed forward.
Needing to get done – and pronto – is the replacement for the over 60-year-old Sullivan Road Bridge. The city is still $4 million shy of the total cost, and it looks unlikely that the state Legislature, mired in its own budgetary woes, will be able to cut a check for the remainder.
If no other funding is forthcoming, it’s possible that the city will be able to make up the difference in order to take advantage of a $3.5 million
Transportation Improvement Board grant. The state money can only be used if the city begins work on the new bridge this year on the estimated $19.7 million project.
Just where that money comes from has yet to be fully decided; however, the city will have $5.17 million in capital reserve funds that are uncommitted.
“Sullivan Road Bridge is a big question mark,” Mayor Tom Towey said Monday. “I think, possibly, we’re going to have to build that bridge. Personally, I think we’re going to have to build it no matter what Olympia does.”
The council learned Tuesday that Spokane Valley will carry over 55 percent of its recurring expenditures going into next year, if all goes as planned. The city’s ending fund balance for 2013 is expected to be $20.8 million
City officials continue to be persnickety with its dollars, said City Manager Mike Jackson, as that attitude has made it possible for Spokane Valley to continue to operate in the black while so many other municipalities are struggling. City department heads were asked to prepare budget reflecting increases of 3, 6 and 9 percent, as has been the norm for the past few years.
“It sounds simple enough, but it’s a powerful message to staff,” Jackson said. “We have to constrain spending even in the good years and continue to maintain basic services with reduced resources.”
With the basics covered – with public safety at the forefront, Jackson reiterated – the city still has a laundry list of things that still need funding. There is still $2.2 million needed for the development of the land west of Balfour Bark, which could someday also hold a library. Another $2.2 million would be required to develop the Appleway Trail from University to Evergreen. And it’s possible a transfer station will be eventually needed as the city works through its ongoing solid waste concerns.
If the city does have to build a transfer station, that would be a situation where the city could find itself issuing bonds and having to pay off the resulting debt – an unusual move so far in the city’s 10 years of existence.
“We continue to minimize city debt,” Jackson said, but added that it would not be something that Spokane Valley would take on unless it could pay for it. “We have not good ongoing revenues to pay for debt. The money is simply not there.”
In developing next year’s budget, Jackson said he hoped council members could help identify any possible expenditures before it’s passed later this year rather than add in things later.
“I think that’s the purpose of the budget,” agreed Council Member Dean Grafos. “If you have a supplemental (later), then you have to justify it.”
Sometimes, however, an expense comes forward and it’s good to be able to move quickly on it, said Council Member Chuck Hafner.
“I think sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot,” he said.
Towey agreed, but cautioned with a catchphrase of his own: “You can’t take your eye off the ball.”
Hafner added that at some point the city may have to look at augmenting the number of deputies assigned to Spokane Valley through the city’s contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. If that were to happen, however, that would be an ongoing expense that would need a dedicated funding source year after year at about $125,000 per deputy.
“We would need to sustain that to keep ahead of the game,” Hafner said.
One possibility, Jackson offered, is the council could authorize the 1-percent increase per year in property taxes allowed by state law. The council has refrained doing so in past years, but property taxes make up the bulk of the funding for the public safety contract.
“We could take that 1 percent and dedicate it to law enforcement,” Jackson said.
While the council did not have a regular meeting on Tuesday, it did meet with the Spokane Valley Planning Commission for two hours to discuss the ongoing development of the Shoreline Master Plan.
The council will not meet next Tuesday, June 25, as members will be attending an Association of Washington Cities conference in the Tri-Cities.