Mayor, council reach common budget ground

Everything from flower baskets to social services was fair game last week, as members of the Enumclaw City Council debated spending plans for the coming year.

The council gathered Nov. 23 for its next-to-last meeting of 2015, taking the opportunity to add money in some places and employ the budgetary ax in other areas. The starting point was a proposed municipal budget that factored in requests by department heads, projected revenue streams and the desires of city administration.

Everything is still a proposal at this point, but the fiscal screws are being tightened. The council anticipates adopting a 2016 budget when it next meets on Dec. 14.

Before weighing in with their personal budget desires Nov. 23, council members heard from the public.

Judi Puttman made a case for the city’s annual program that places hanging flower baskets at downtown intersections – a program that is not in the city’s budget proposal. Puttman has agreed to head an effort that will generate the cash needed for 100-plus baskets but went before the council asking that the city address the baskets’ ongoing needs.

“Please allocate just enough for maintenance,” she said.

Next up was Kirk Davis, who asked that the city lend its financial support to a program operated by Green River Community College that offers expertise to small-business owners and operators. Tim Smith asked the council to support both the local arts scene and a proposed downtown feasibility study. That study, which began with ideas formulated almost two decades ago during the administration of Mayor George Rossman, examines upgrades to Railroad Street.

Also voicing support for the downtown study was Troy Couch, executive director of the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce.

“We really need to support that project,” Couch said. He pledged the chamber’s backing for an effort to “keep the town growing and evolving, changing and getting better.”

Samantha Reinford and Laurie Hilberg stepped to the podium, asking that the city show financial support for the arts.

Councilman Chance LaFleur directed much of the council’s budget discussion, first explaining that he and Mayor Liz Reynolds had sat down and hammered out a plan that included compromise on both sides while matching planned expenditures with anticipated revenues.

“It’s about finding common ground,” Reynolds said.

First turning to the earlier-discussed flower basket program, Reynolds reminded that the proposed 2016 budget has no allocation for downtown decorations. Eventually, that’s the way the council vote went. Several members noted their belief that volunteers had said they would come up with money to entirely fund the program, which carries a price tag of about $12,000 annually.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to come out and support the community,” LaFleur said.

Clearly a hot-button issue is the city’s habit of offering dollars-and-cents support to Plateau Outreach Ministries, a nonprofit organization that helps people in financial need. Aside from operating a food bank that provides meals to hungry children and adults, POM provides assistance for those needing help with things like rent and utility payments. To an ever-increasing extent, POM also serves as a central location for social services offered by other agencies.

Councilman Mike Sando proposed that the city give $15,000 for utility vouchers that would be channeled through POM. That, it turn, prompted a council discussion over the role of municipal government and the doling out of taxpayer dollars.

“I can’t get behind using taxpayer money to fund an outside agency,” LaFleur said. Such a cash contribution, he said, means citizens are essentially being forced to donate to POM rather than giving willingly.

Councilwoman Juanita Carstens agreed, noting that she loves what POM accomplishes, but doesn’t support the notion of a seven-member council determining what all city residents will financially support.

Councilman Morgan Irwin said he’s convinced the people of Enumclaw support the work done by the staff and volunteers at POM. In lending financial support, he said, “we’re doing something that follows the voice of the people.”

In a close vote, POM will receive the $15,000 allocation for utility vouchers due to the votes of Sando, Irwin, Hoke Overland, Jim Hogan and Darrel Dickson.

Following other budget discussions, each originating with a LeFleur motion, the council agreed to:

• Reduce the funding identified for the downtown feasibility study to $20,000; originally, the budget had a $30,000 allocation. Also reduced was the entire $47,000 earmarked for a feasibility study of a downtown park.

• Eliminate $16,900 from the proposed budget that would have increased an employee at the Enumclaw Senior Center to full-time status; the position is now funded, and will remain, at a .75 status.

• Eliminate the $10,000 penciled in for Green River’s small-business experts. While Dickson argued that supporting local business would pay financial dividends, others noted that GRCC’s services will still be available, just requiring a trip to Auburn.

• Drop the city funding for its Youth Center from $70,000 to $60,000. It was noted the new figure still reflects a $15,000 increase over the 2015 funding level; Irwin added that the city also provides a rent subsidy to the organization.

• Amend the proposed budget to include an across-the-board increase in fees charged to those using recreation programs. The 3 percent hike is estimated to generate an additional $4,000 annually.

• Amend the budget to take $6,000 from the Schlotfeldt Library Endowment Fund, giving the money to the Enumclaw Historical Society for capital improvements.

In another move impacting residents’ pocketbooks, the council showed initial support for a move that would increase sewer rates by 3 percent beginning with the new year. The move was prompted both by general inflation and the preference for several small rate hikes, thus avoiding a large increase down the road. City Administrator Chris Searcy said some big projects are in the sewer utility’s future.