Buckley budget grows after gas utility sale

After years of struggling to make ends meet, the city of Buckley has found itself with a bit of financial breathing room.

That’s the word from Mayor Pat Johnson, delivered in the wake of the Buckley City Council’s formal adoption of a 2016 spending plan. The council passed a budget for the coming year during a meeting of Nov. 24.

“It’s nice to sit down at the table and not look at cuts,” Johnson said, referring to a budget process that went smoother than in recent years. “We’re definitely turning the corner on the economy.”

The city’s preliminary 2016 budget began with a positive message from an upbeat Johnson.

“We find ourselves in the pleasant position of having a period of time with increasing revenues,” Johnson wrote. “Even though we are still juggling to balance all the funds and replace reserve funds that were used during the recession, plus adding additional employees to help with the work load, this year’s budget has been less painful.”

Asked to single out a highlight of the 2016 budget, Johnson pointed to the positive revenue flow that looks to fill city coffers.

A key element of that good news is the $5 million sitting in the bank, the end result of the city’s sale of its natural gas utility to Puget Sound Energy.

“When you are drawing interest on $5 million dollars, it’s a nice little revenue stream,” Johnson said.

Here are a few other budget elements that could be of interest to city residents:

Additional staff

Buckley is planning to add one full-time employee in 2016, putting one more police officer on the streets. But it’s not just the addition to public safety that makes the hire intriguing, it’s the funding source. The city figures an officer’s salary and benefits will be offset by tax revenues generated by Buckley’s two retail marijuana establishments.

Property taxes

When it comes to property taxes, the City Council agreed to bump the rate by 1 percent, the maximum allowed under state law.

Utility rates

Utility rates appear stable for now, but water could be bumped during 2016, Johnson said. She also won’t be surprised in a garbage rates increase as well, adding that the decision is mostly out of the city’s hands. Buckley contracts with a private hauler that could increase its charge to the city; the city would then pass the increase along to its customers.

Capital improvements

A small number of capital improvements projects are found in the pages of the budget, primary among those a remodel of the multipurpose center. Buckley’s younger set might be thrilled to learn the city also will pay for a transformation of its skate park. Also planned are improvements to the city parking lot just north of Main Street.

While cautioning that everything is speculative at this point – numbers are always estimates and there may be changes during the coming 12 months – Johnson said Buckley’s financial position is healthy, indeed. The proposed budget, which stayed largely true to form during the adoption process, notes that the city anticipates spending a bit more than $16 million during the coming year, while enjoying revenues in excess of $26 million.

“We have worked very hard during the past 10 years to have some very strong reserves,” Johnson said.