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Down economy hitting Enumclaw

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Times are tough everywhere.

It sometimes seems that the Pacific Northwest is isolated from troubles facing the rest of the nation and that holds even more true in south King County. But the economic malaise plaguing the entire nation has made its way to Cole Street, Griffin Avenue and state Route 164, where customers aren’t spending their hard-earned dollars as they did a couple of years ago.

Instead of going in debt for a new automobile, shoppers are pained to even put gasoline in their old jalopy. Instead of purchasing new clothes or trinkets for the home, they’re leaving more cash than ever at the grocery store.

The impact of a tightening economy is being felt in city halls across the nation, at least in those cities where sales tax revenues are counted upon to fund essential services. Count Enumclaw among those.

“It’s interesting how we’re marching along in step with what’s happening nationally,” City Administrator Mark Bauer said.

During the Aug. 11 meeting of the Enumclaw City Council, Bauer warned that the 2008 municipal budget will need some tweaking between now and the end of the year.

In a later interview, Bauer said sales tax revenues could fall as much as 12 percent below projections. And that means belt-tightening time for those in charge of various city departments.

“We’ve asked all departments to hold off on any purchases that are not absolutely essential,” Bauer said.

There are about 2.3 million reasons why sales tax revenues are important to the citizens of Enumclaw. The city’s general fund pays for things like police and fire protection, the library, parks and recreation offerings and services for senior services. And about $2.3 million of the general fund total comes from sales tax revenues. Another $2 million is generated by property taxes and the remainder, another $2 million, comes in the form of utility taxes and other charges.

The tightened economy is evident in downtown Enumclaw.

The recent flurry of activity, which has seen some businesses closing their doors and others shifting locations, has caused concern about the community’s economic health.

But the recent changes are a predictable, momentary blip on the long-term forecast, according to Cathy Rigg, executive director of the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce.

While she acknowledges the shuffling of the past couple of months has been attention-grabbing, she emphasizes that it’s not unusual.

“People start to panic,” she said, “but downtown replenishes itself. We aren’t going to shrivel up and blow away. We’ll get through this.”

A stroll along Cole Street shows plenty of recent activity.

Leo’s Women’s Fashions is in its final days, Serendipity Antiques closed its doors and a tanning salon at the south end of town has also posted a going-out-of-business sign. Over The Edge attempted to open a separate shop just for men’s clothes, but abandoned the effort. And, while there’s nothing posted, it’s whispered that one of downtown’s larger stores could be turning off its lights.

On a positive note, the Salt Shaker Christian bookstore has expanded its quarters and moved its front door to Cole Street. Likewise, 4 Sons Sporting Goods moved from Griffin Avenue into a Cole Street storefront.

Activity within the business community is no surprise, considering the general unrest in the national economy, Rigg said.

But Enumclaw is primed for better things, she said, with the ongoing construction at the city’s expanded wastewater treatment plant. When the new portion of the plant goes on line next year, Rigg said, the expectation is that more homes will be built, enrollment at local schools will see a turnaround and start to grow and the population will begin to climb. All that will benefit the business community, Rigg said, which should expand and grow along with the rest of the community.

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

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