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Enumclaw council rolls back property tax, continues work on 2012 budget

Moving steadily closer to adoption of a 2012 budget, members of the Enumclaw City Council tackled a series of dollars-and-cents issues Monday night.

The pieces are all coming together on a spending plan that will receive formal adoption during the council's Dec. 12 meeting. Like cities big and small all across Washington, the financial picture is a gloomy one.

One element of the budget – and a crucial piece on the revenue side of the ledger – is the city's collection of property taxes. That portion of the budget was approved Monday night, as the council unanimously agreed to roll back a significant portion of the potential collection.

The city no longer pays for fire services, due to annexation into District 28, so that chunk of the property tax collection has been axed. City property owners were paying 89 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value for fire services.

The end result, for the owner of property assessed at $250,000, is a 2012 tax decrease of about $16 per month.

For the city, it means a drop in revenues of more than $900,000 annually. The city could legally have collected the money and spent it on things other than fire protection, but the council was adamant that the money not be collected.

Even though the money will not be taken from property owners, the city retained the right to someday assess the tax increase.

State law allows cities and towns to "bank" their unused taxing authority and that's what the Enumclaw council did Monday night with regard to the uncollected 89 cents. The council had earlier talked of hanging onto the taxing authority and perhaps asking citizens, at a later date, if they would support implementing the tax for items like additions to the police force or an improved effort at maintaining city streets.

Councilman Mike Ennis has been a critic of such maneuvers with unused taxing ability, but was supportive Monday night. He added that it would take an advisory vote by citizens before he would support using the banked taxing authority.

On another budget issue, the council moved a final step closer to getting out of the library businesses.

The public library has historically been supported by the city's general fund, but a council ordinance made it clear that will no longer be the issue. The library's budget has taken severe hits in recent years, resulting in decreased operating hours, less money dedicated to staffing and no money for new library resources.

For 2012, the city budget will call for library money to be taken from Fund 180, a pot of cash built through property sales and lease collections. It is seen as a one-time expenditure as the city moves toward placing an item on the April ballot asking voters to annex into the King County Library System.

Councilman Rich Elfers was the lone dissenting voice.

"This is not good financial policy," Elfers said, moments before the council agreed to use the Fund 180 money.

On another budgetary move, Councilman Jeff Beckwith was successful in his desire to get a bit more city funding for the Enumclaw Youth Center. The preliminary budget being debated had included $15,000 for the center and Beckwith asked his fellow council members to bump the figure to $25,000.

Earlier in the meeting, youth center director Gary Hemminger had addressed the council, emphasizing the positive influence the center has on the teenage community. Studies show an active youth center can save money in the long run, he said, by curtailing the need for police and other city services.

"This gets us moving back in the right direction," Beckwith said of the $25,000 expenditure, referring to the days when the city allocated more to the ongoing efforts of Enumclaw Youth and Family Services.

Elfers reminded the council of the city's tight finances.

"For the good of the city, I'm going to have to vote no," he said, just before Beckwith's budget request passed by a 6-1 margin.

Councilman Sean Krebs said he would be seeking some additional spending in the city budget, but would not make his formal recommendations until the Dec. 12 council meeting. He will be looking for $10,000 so the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce can continue operating the Visitor Center, will recommend that $4,000 be given to Green River Community College so it can assist the local business community and will ask that a rent subsidy be continued for the Chamber of Commerce, which occupies a city-owned building.

In other action during Monday night's meeting, the council:

• approved an ordinance increasing rates for solid waste collections. Beginning Jan. 1, city ratepayers will see a 2 percent bump in garbage collection fees and a 5 percent increase in yard waste collections.

• passed a resolution dealing with the biosolids produced at the city's wastewater treatment plant. Waste treatment results in a sludge that needs to be disposed of and the city sediment has been hauled to eastern Washington, where it is applied to farmland as a soil additive. The company doing the hauling is no longer doing business in Washington, forcing the city to sign with a new hauler. The good news, according to Public Works Director Chris Searcy, is the new contract should save the city approximately $15,000 per year.

 

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