Passage of car-tab Initiative 776 to sock cities in wallet
Times Snohomish County bureau
Officials in three midcounty cities say they've spent conservatively in recent years, but they find themselves in different financial situations as they prepare their 2003 budgets.
Lake Stevens, Marysville and Arlington each expect to lose money from the passage last week of Initiative 776, which eliminated the $15 optional vehicle-registration surcharge collected by Snohomish, King, Pierce and Douglas counties. The money provides funding for county and municipal road projects.
Still, while each community's general fund is expected to grow slightly next year, officials say they will spend little on new projects or people.
Lake Stevens faces a projected $61,400 shortfall in its proposed $2.17 million general-fund budget, but city officials say Mayor Lynn Walty is comfortable making it up from a $1.3 million reserve fund.
"That is our worst-case scenario, and that's not bad for all the stuff we're trying to do," said Jan Berg, city finance director.
The city has been cautious in its spending, she said, since the passage in 1999 of Initiative 695, which led to a cut in car-tab fees to $30 and eliminated a source of local funding.
Requests for equipment, programs and projects were — and still are — approved only if they will produce long-term savings, Berg said, and while the city doesn't plan any layoffs, vacant positions will be carefully evaluated. The city's building and planning department has been hardest hit, having shrunk from five positions to two since 1998.
"At that time, we did what a lot of cities have to do now," Berg said. "We did a lot of attrition in 1999 and 2000, so we're in pretty good shape right now."
The city has not yet determined the financial impact of I-776, but Berg said she doesn't anticipate a major loss. Lake Stevens officials are proposing a sewer-rate increase of $5 a month to help cover the cost of updating the city's 40-year-old sewer system. Officials also will propose a 1 percent property-tax increase.
In Marysville, Mayor David Weiser has considered layoffs since the passage of I-776, which is expected to cost the city more than $200,000 next year.
Weiser's "just the basics" $14.7 million general-fund budget represents a nearly 3 percent increase over last year's $14.3 million budget. In his budget memo to the City Council, Weiser said the plan reflects the economic impacts of anti-tax initiatives, continuing Boeing layoffs and a projected 10 percent decrease in sales-tax revenue.
"We're to the point where programs are going to have to be cut, whether that's in the parks department or the Police Department or wherever," Weiser said. "When you cut programs, you're cutting people."
Weiser would not offer details on which programs or departments would be affected.
In addition, three vacant positions — one each in police, executive and finance departments — will not be filled, Weiser said. A fourth position in the parks department may be filled next year, he said.
And while the city is proposing a 1 percent increase in property taxes — which amounts to about $50,000 in revenue — the City Council is reluctant to raise taxes, city finance director Sandy Langdon said.
The city of Arlington will spend $230,000 from its proposed $7.6 million general-fund budget to hire two new police officers and a fire marshal.
"Public safety is a very high priority for the council right now," said city administrator Kristin Banfield. "Council is not comfortable with where the city is as far as crime rate and response times."
The city will mitigate the impact of I-776 by using dollars held in reserves for other capital projects. The measure will end up costing the city about $100,000 next year.
City officials propose a 1 percent increase in property tax and will levy an additional $100,000 — a 7.3 percent increase altogether — in "banked capacity."
Initiative 747, which passed last year, limited cities to property-tax increases of 1 percent a year, but communities are allowed to levy at amounts they did not approve prior to I-747 — the banked capacity.
Arlington has budgeted conservatively in recent years, Banfield said. Only the police and fire departments added personnel in recent years.
"In our other departments, we're dealing with a bare-bones staff," Banfield said. "With the workload they have, we could probably use additional staff, but we don't have the money to do that."
Pam Sitt: 425-745-7806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.