News

Buckley council approves budget

By John Leggett-The Courier Herald

Buckley City Council members unanimously adopted a 2008 city budget at least a full month before they were legally required to, allowing staff to enjoy the remainder of 2007 without the annual budget ordeal hanging over their heads.

“I want to personally thank each and every member of the council and city administrator David Schmidt in particular, for all the extra hours they devoted to hammering out this budget document,” Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson said at the conclusion of the recent city council meeting.

The 2008 budget proposes to spend about $21.5 million, based on revenue projections of nearly $27.8 million. Planned expenditures for 2008 reflect an increase of $1.1 million more than 2007, primarily due to large capital construction projects that lie ahead, such as a new well and Phase II of the city's wastewater treatment plant.

Revenues for 2008 reflect an increase of $895,000 more than 2007, related to grant/loan dollars being applied to the major projects. Revenue projections are based upon assumptions related to proposed increases in utility usage charges and new development contributions - in Elk Heights and Neilsen Meadows, for example - toward utility and street capital projects.

The general fund serves as the backbone of the city and provides funding for government administration, law enforcement, fire and emergency services, planning and building and municipal court, as well as parks and recreation programs and services. Increased costs from inflationary pressures and the cost of doing business have taken a toll on the general fund.

Law enforcement services represent a little more than 50 percent or the general fund budget and are broken down into dispatch, jail and law enforcement functions.

Police Chief Jim Arsanto said law enforcement usually accounts for about half of most cities' general fund budgets.

He added that his department is also projected to bring in about $600,000 of revenue, produced via its jail services, dispatch services and various law enforcement contracts, one of which is with the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado.

Revenues continue to dwindle and city leaders point to an inability to keep pace with increased costs. Buckley's general fund reserves have dropped from $1.2 million at the beginning of 2002 to $531,000 for the coming year, which includes $110,000 from the recent sale of property to White River Senior Housing.

In her 2008 budget statement, Johnson wrote, “The passage of Initiative 747 has really hurt the City of Buckley. Property tax is the primary funding source for the general fund. Initiative 747 only allowed cities to raise taxes by 1% and we all know that inflation is much higher than that. We have slowly lost ground over the past five years that law has been in place. Prior to I-747 cities were allowed to increase property tax by 6%.”

The coming year will bring a lot of belt tightening and “carefully looking at where the money goes,” she said. Also, the mayor remarked that the city will continually be looking at ways it can keep costs down but keep the level of services in place that make Buckley a well-rounded and pleasant place to live.

One of the watchdogs of the city's expenditures will be the council's Utility Committee, which will be taking a hard look at whether the city should keep its natural gas system. Increasing regulations make it more and more difficult to maintain the system and provide Buckley's natural gas users with a reasonable rate for natural gas. The only Washington cities running their own natural gas operations are Ellensburg, Enumclaw and Buckley.

Capital projects on the horizon for Buckley in the coming year include construction of a new fire station and youth center. There will be a White River bridge feasibility study and design, completion of comprehensive water and stormwater plans and the purchase of several new pieces of equipment.

John Leggett can be reached at jleggett@courierherald.com.

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