Just as a squirrel stashes away food in anticipation of winter, the city of Enumclaw needs to strengthen its financial reserves.
That’s one of the core messages delivered by Mayor Jan Molinaro, who recently offered up his preliminary 2019 city budget. It’s a first-time effort for the mayor, who was elected in November 2017 and took office in January.
The preliminary budget is just that – a starting point, crafted by the mayor and City Hall staff after department heads have weighed in with their individual requests. The initial budget proposal will be scrutinized and subjected to public hearings, then tinkered with by the seven members of the City Council. That group has a final say, and it’s expected a 2019 budget will be approved in late November or early December at the latest.
The opening sentences of Molinaro’s proposed budget reflect his view that Enumclaw’s spending plan needs to evolve with the times.
“There are some increases and some decreases in 2019,” the mayor wrote, “but as the city has experienced growth in 2018 it was essential that its dollars were properly reflected into areas to assist in servicing that growth.”
A prime factor impacting city operations is the constant, planned growth seen throughout town. To meet those demands, Molinaro wrote, the city has to determine what its core services are; those are efforts receiving public money.
With that, he offered that “certain decisions and reallocation of funds needed to be implemented.” The community has a long history of volunteerism, he noted, hoping that local efforts will pick up the slack when the city steps aside.
That item caught the attention of the local arts community, as the mayor’s budget suggested that the arts be removed from the list of city services. Enumclaw has long had a “arts and cultural services” manager who works under the umbrella of the Parks and Recreation Department.
As part of the give-and-take of the budget process, it appears Molinaro’s proposal has been massaged a bit by the council. Initial discussions involve keeping the arts alive through the city, but taking a serious look at how things operate and how much it costs.
Councilman Anthony Wright reported a compromise that centers upon an internal review of the city’s Arts Division, which calls for total expenditures of about $62,000 this year. Existing programs will likely be retained, he said, but the part-time position dedicated to the arts – which has been filled for years by Gary LaTurner – will probably disappear.
The city budget most directly impacts property owners through the implementation of utility rates. The good news in the preliminary budget is that Molinaro is proposing a 10 percent decrease in sewer rates while suggesting no increases for water or natural gas.
On the flip side, Enumclaw – like most cities and towns in the region – will be paying more to dispose of its trash collections. Fees at landfills are spiking and those costs will be passed along to individual users.
Residents also may be getting used to a new utility and accompanying monthly fee. During last year’s budget process, the city approved a stormwater utility; monthly charges began showing up on local utility bills last month.
PROPERTY TAXES PART OF THE MIX
When setting local property taxes for the coming year, the state allows cities to collect at the 2018 level, while adding 1 percent and the value of new construction. That’s what Molinaro’s proposed budget seeks and, when the financial calculations are complete, it arrives at a levy rate of $1.33251 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
That’s down from the $1.42 being paid by Enumclaw property owners this year, or the $1.48 assessed in 2016.
As spelled out in the mayor’s budget, the city could be looking at a handful of major capital projects to the tune of nearly $4.7 million. Not all are glamorous, as they deal with things like sludge pumps, culvert replacement and masonry restoration.
Some, however, are highly-visible items. Included are improvements to Railroad Street between Battersby and Myrtle avenues, with an estimated price tag of $476,000; improvements to the busy Semanski-Warner intersection, $576,000; and resurfacing of Cole Street between Stevenson and Roosevelt, $548,000. The single biggest-ticket item is development of the Foothills and Battersby trails, estimated at more than $1 million.
BUDGET IS A LONG PROCESS
The laborious process of crafting a detailed spending plan began in August with meetings between department heads and city administration.
The legwork continues through October with budget discussions included as part of the council’s regularly-scheduled sessions. Citizens get their say in November: the first public hearing on the preliminary budget is planned for Nov. 13, along with the first hearing on the property tax levy. A final public hearing on both items is set for Nov. 26.