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City to consider farming out operations

A handful of traditional city operations could soon land in the laps of other agencies.

A case for transferring four current city functions was made by outgoing Mayor John Wise in his 2010 budget proposal and incoming Mayor Liz Reynolds agrees the proposal is worth a look.

“There are several opportunities to save direct cost and future inflationary costs by looking to other alternatives to city-run operations,” Wise wrote in his budget summary.

Specifically, he listed the city-owned cemetery, the fire department, the library and the dispatch center.

Those four, Wise wrote, “are examples where I believe we are no longer competitive or can no longer bear the expense of operation without subsidizing the expenditure.”

In two of those four cases, plans are already coming to fruition.

Members of the Enumclaw City Council were expected to address the cemetery during their Monday night meeting – specifically, whether the maintenance and operation of Enumclaw Evergreen Memorial Park should be transferred to Weeks’ Funeral Homes. The city issued a formal Request For Proposals and heard only from Weeks’, which operates funeral homes in both Enumclaw and Buckley.

If the plan with Weeks’ were to fall through, the city could be looking at a $60,000 subsidy to operate the cemetery during 2010, according to the preliminary budget presented by Wise.

Also already in the discussion state is a move toward annexing the city into Fire District 28. Currently, the city and the district have joint ownership of a department that serves the needs of residents both in the city and surrounding rural areas. The city handles all the administrative functions but the district has a separate, elected board of directors.

“The costs of operation continue to skyrocket along with the need to add additional full-0time firefighters,” Wise wrote, referencing the evolution of the department from a staff consisting largely of volunteers to one comprised primarily of professional firefighters.

Presently, all property owners in both the city and District 28 pay taxes to support the operation, but those inside the city limits pay slightly less. Balancing the rate is just one of many details to be worked out before the issue would be put to a vote.

The voting public would have to agree to the annexation proposal.

With regard to the public library, Wise wrote that it’s simply a matter of economics. If the King County library system operated the Enumclaw library in 2010, for example, it would spend approximately $173,000 less that the city will, Wise wrote.

If it can be done cheaper, residents’ tax bills will shrink accordingly, Wise said.

When it comes to emergency dispatching, the city has handled 911 calls for both its police and fire departments. There are many benefits to having a local system, Wise wrote in his budget, but it’s time to examine whether it would be better to join other agencies using the Valley Com system.

Preliminary numbers used by the mayor indicate the city will spent about $490,000 on dispatch operations during 2010; using Valley Com, Wise wrote, would generate a bill of about $307,000.

Reynolds, who will ascend to the mayor’s chair from her City Council post in January, supports looking at all the alternatives.

“It all comes down to money,” she said, “and how we are able to offer the best services for our citizens.

“It never hurts to have the discussion, to reassess and evaluate how we’re doing things.”

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