News

City plans pinching pennies

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Like households throughout the Plateau, the folks at Enumclaw City Hall are watching their pennies.

While the scale might be different - the city deals with a general fund budget that sat at about $8 million this year - it seems everyone these days is dealing with higher costs that call for an examination of every expenditure.

The 2009 municipal budget is dominating talk in the city’s administrative circles these days as the laborious task of creating a spending plan for next year enters its stretch run. The process began in July, will include a series of public hearings that begin later this month, and is expected to conclude with a Dec. 8 vote of the City Council. A tentative budget, offered by Mayor John Wise, will be unveiled during the council’s Oct. 27 session.

Following a national trend, the city is already experiencing a decline in sales tax revenues, a key component of the general fund budget that pays for essential services like police and fire protection. The city had earlier noted that sales tax revenues are down about 7 percent from its formal projection and there’s no indication that figure will improve anytime soon, according to City Administrator Mark Bauer.

One option at the city’s disposal is a reserve account that will likely hold about $1.7 million at the end of the year, Bauer said. By policy, the city attempts to keep about 8 percent of its general fund budget in a “rainy day” account.

Dipping into that fund is allowable, Bauer said, but it’s a decision the council will have to authorize.

Knowing times will be tough, the city’s department heads were told to keep their requests to a 3 percent increase when they submitted their individual 2009 spending plans, Bauer said.

“In some cases they could do it and in some cases they couldn’t,” he said, noting that external factors can impact city operatons.

For example, the local court system could take a financial hit due to King County’s recent changes in how they prosecute certain cases. Bauer explained that the county is paring down its team of prosecutors and will likely accept fewer cases as a result. So, cases that previously were handled by the county as felonies may soon be kicked back to the city to prosecute as gross misdemeanors, Bauer said.

That means more expenses on the city side and, possibly, fewer resources. If the city winds up housing more inmates, it will be unable to accept prisoners from other jurisdictions - something the city charges for.

Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205.

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