Enumclaw city budget offers gloomy 2012 outlook

Enumclaw officials are casting a wary eye toward the 2012 municipal budget, anticipating another tough 12 months as the city deals with a slow-to-recover economy.

Early indications show city budget-makers will be facing slumping revenues and escalating costs – the same gloomy picture that has been painted since the 2008 onset of the ongoing recession.

While the budget writing process is in its infancy – City Administrator Mike Thomas will not meet face-to-face with department heads until the week of Sept. 19 – everyone has a pretty clear idea of where things stand. Thomas and Finance Director Stephanie McKenzie delivered the sad news during a mid-August budget workshop attended by the City Council.

The disheartening summary is that Enumclaw will have fewer dollars to spend  in 2012 than in the current year. The city expects no growth in sales tax revenues and stagnant revenue flow from real estate excise taxes. There’s anticipated trouble with utility connection revenues, too. The city is looking at a population decline and a decrease in the city’s assessed value, which equates to a drop in revenues.

Unknown factors are employee salaries and the cost of providing healthcare benefits for city workers. The city will be negotiating contracts with employee unions during 2012.

Just how big is the projected deficit? The range could be anywhere from $200,000 to $750,000, according to a written report issued by Thomas and McKenzie.

Two factors are at play that will impact the property tax levy imposed by the city in 2012 and beyond.

First will be financial implications from the voter-approved annexation of the city into Fire District 28. Presently, the city collects 68 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to pay for fire services; the collection and spending of tax dollars shifts to District 28 with the dawn of 2012.

A budgetary wild card is the public library. The city goal is to remove the library from the general fund, which could be managed through a special levy or annexation in the King County Library District. The city had started down the annexation path this year, but bailed out when information was available in a timely manner.

The Enumclaw Library Advisory Board has suggested a blending of sources, both general fund money and cash from a levy.

Answers to all the city’s financial questions will be addressed in the months to come. The city’s proposed calendar shows a preliminary 2012 budget, including the mayor’s budget message, will be available to the public Oct. 14; four council workshops are planned for the second half of October and early November; public hearings are scheduled for Nov. 14 and 28; and final adoption of the 2012 budget is set for Dec. 12.

By law, a balanced budget must be adopted prior to the end of the year.

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