Keeping the city’s budget balanced and still being able to meet all of the needs of its citizens is one of the most important functions of a city and the Lake Stevens City Council and staff are looking at all possible ways to ensure that both of these things will continue in the future.
At city council meeting on Monday, Oct. 18, City Administrator Jan Berg presented different ideas that may be used to keep the city on budget and keep essential services at an optimum level for its residents.
“They (the city council and the budget committee) are trying to look at revenue sources as they look at cuts and budgets,” Berg said.
There were different ideas suggested including a B&O tax or an increase in local sales tax, however, both of those were discarded early on in the conversation.
“A B&O tax and an increase in sales tax didn’t even come out of committee as a recommendation to move forward,” Berg explained. “Now isn’t the right time to increase taxes, on businesses especially.”
Another idea was to create a Transportation Benefit District, or a TBD, which was approved by legislature a couple of years ago as a revenue source option for cities to improve streets and transportation.
The TBD could collect up to $20 per registered vehicle without a vote by citizens. That could mean almost $200,000 a year for the City of Lake Stevens and all funds collected would go towards street and transportation needs but could not be used for the general fund.
“The budget committee wanted to educate the council on what that (TBD) is,” Berg said. “There isn’t any direction at this time to go forward with that option.”
The city has had to do two rounds of lay-offs in the past 18 months and are hoping to avoid having to continue with more lay-offs, so they are looking for ways to ensure they can continue serving the community for years to come. That means having enough staff to do all of the work while making sure their budget continues to be balanced.
“We are looking at ways to cut our expenditures. We are doing some pretty major changes in how we do business,” Berg said. “I’m having the council not just look at 2011, because we are in an economy that most likely won’t drastically change for a while. While developing this budget they are looking three to five years out. We have to look long term.”
Property taxes collected by the city can be used for both the general fund and the street fund and in the past 14 to 28 percent of the collected monies has gone into the street fund with the remaining amount going to the general fund.
“For 2011, 21 percent of collected property taxes will be going to the street fund,” Berg said. “We are not going forward with a TBD at this point. It is just a tool that is out there.”
Just recently the City of Snohomish chose to form a TBD, however, they have not implemented the vehicle tax as of yet. Forming a district does take a formal action by the city council.
“The recommendation from the budget committee is not to form one but we do need to let everyone know what tools are out there. This was just information given to the council,” Berg explained. “The bottom line is we are looking at ways to cut the budget. What can we conserve and save and stop doing so that we can avoid further lay-offs.”
City staff and council are continuing their budget discussions and continue to plan for many years to come.
“We are getting our budget balanced for next year and trying to save for our future,” Berg said. “I am really proud of the mayor and our city council for looking at sustainability for the future.”