Black Diamond looks at raising property tax levy, freezes utility rate hike

A planned 10 percent rise in the sewer utility rates has been put off, for now.

The Black Diamond City Council chambers

While other cities are likely having to scale back their 2021 budget due to the pandemic, Black Diamond looks to be sitting pretty.

“This year has certainly not been a typical year for any of us. It has been a year full of challenges due to COVID-19 and its far reaching effects on how we do business and interact socially,” Mayor Carol Benson conceded in her introduction to the city’s 2021 preliminary budget. She added that the city is seeing some revenue decreases from streams like the city gym, which closed last month, thanks to the pandemic. “The city did not however suffer the significant revenue decreases many larger cities experienced, primarily due to two reasons: 1) Our largest General Fund revenue source is property tax, which remains unaffected, and; 2) We do not yet have a large commercial sales tax base, which is where larger cites suffered their biggest decreases due to less vehicle sales or many closed businesses.”

In fact, the city is expecting its property tax revenue to grow from the budgeted $1.8 million in 2020 to just over $2 million in 2021.

Black Diamond is also expecting Community Development revenue — specifically, land use and permitting fees — to increase from the $1.2 million budgeted in 2020 to just about $2 million this coming year.

With Community Development revenue rising, the city is in turn increasing its expenditures. Roughly $1.01 million was budgeted to be spent last year, whereas the 2021 budget is calling for $1.5 million in expenditures.

“The significant increase in Community Development in 2021 is due to continued permitting demands from the new construction in the Ten Trails Development. It also includes the addition of a Senior Planner, a Permit Tech, a new vehicle and professional consultant services,” the budget reads.

The Black Diamond Police Department is also expecting to spend a little bit more money this coming year; roughly $2.3 million was budgeted for 2020, but $2.8 million has been budgeted for 2021.

“The Police budget increases are for union contract settlement, the Valley Com rate increase, a new officer and vehicle,” the budget reads. “In addition, an increase in building costs has been included for an anticipated new building lease.”

Additionally, Mountain View Fire and Rescue costs have increased from a budgeted $571,000 in 2020 to $614,000, reflecting a 7.4 percent cost of living adjustment.

This is not in line with how much the fire department has claimed it costs to serve the city; in reports to the city council, Mountain View has said the department actually spends closer to $1.5 million, and is hoping the city can find a way to produce that revenue for the department before their contract ends on Jan. 1, 2023.

PROPERTY AND UTILITY TAXES

While some folks are interested in how much money their city is collecting and spending, others are just interested in how a budget their city is going to affect their wallets.

To that effect, there’s some good news, and some bad.

First, the bad: it looks like the city will be increasing its property taxes. The Black Diamond City Council held a public hearing on a property tax increase during its Nov. 5 meeting. No action was taken; the council will vote on whether to increase the levy during its Nov. 19 meeting.

According to city documents, the property tax levy is increasing from $1.86 per $1,000 in assessed property value to $1.90. This means for a home valued at $400,000, property taxes will increase from $744 to $760.

However, this increase will be offset by the good news — that the city is not increasing its sewer utility rate by the planned 10 percent, as per a December 2019 decision to do so.

This is leaving the base monthly sewer charge at $25 for the next year, rather than increasing it to $27.50, saving Black Diamond resident $30 a year.

“A review of the revenue of the Sewer Fund for 2020 and 2021 indicated that a higher amount of revenue than had been expected had been collected in the last two years, due primarily to an increased number of customers,” reads the council’s agenda bill. “This has increased the amount of revenue in the Sewer Fund and can now allow a suspension of the planned 10 percent rate increase for 2021 without harming the Sewer Fund’s revenue.”

It’s expected the city will review Sewer Fund revenue in 2021 to determine if another rate increase is needed.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS

There are several projects that the city is budgeting for in 2021 that residents may get excited over.

First is the Ginder Creek Trail development, which is to be a 1,540-foot long multipurpose trail that connects Roberts Drive to Morgan Street; a small parking lot will also be built at the Roberts Drive trailhead. The project is expected to cost nearly $300,000.

Black Diamond is also looking to update its Parks Plan, which is out-of-date, as the last plan was made by staff in 2008.

Just over $77,000 is budgeted to be spent on the Parks Plan this coming year.

Younger residents can look forward to the city’s skate park getting spruced up with cement facilities, which looks to be about a $20,000 job.

The most expensive project on the city’s capital projects list is the replacement of the asbestos water main replacement from Roberts Drive to the south end of Morgan Drive. The project, which has nearly $600,000 budgeted, is to improve fire flows to the Morganville area.


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