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City of Bonney Lake to sell land to make up budget gap

Officials in Bonney Lake are attempting to close a gap between revenues and expenditures in next year's budget with plans to sell off a piece of land originally intended for a new city hall.

Aside from the land sale, officials for the city characterize the next biennium's spending plan as a "no frills" and "status quo, bare bones."

"We're trying to maintain what we have," Mayor Neil Johnson said of his proposed spending plan. "We're just trying to do more with less."

This year, for the third consecutive biennial budget, the administration is not proposing any layoffs or hiring in the city. Positions that are open, however, will not be filled.

But the biggest budget issue facing the city this year is a gap of about $900,000 between expected revenues and expenditures, though the administration is quick to point out the gap is caused by debt service on the city's Justice Center and the 800 MHz communications system for the police and fire departments.

"If we didn't have those two debt service payments we wouldn't have any budget issue at all," said City Administrator Don Morrison.

The mayor is proposing to fill the gap by selling a 12-acre piece of land, located at 192nd Avenue and Sumner-Buckley Highway. The land was purchased in 2005 as the location for a new city hall, but since then, plans have changed and the land is sitting unused.

The city paid $1.3 million for the property.

Morrison and Johnson both said it makes sense to use money from that land to pay off debt service because it was originally intended for a city hall.

"Since we have a justice center that's becoming a de facto city hall, it made a lot of sense," Johnson said, adding that the original purchase money came form the general fund so it was a "natural progression" to use that to pay down the debt.

"Since no city hall is going to go down there, why hold on to it?" he said.

Johnson said he was not in favor of selling any other property.

Morrison said the land sale should help pay off the debt for about three years, but then similar issues may arise again. He also said the city planned to refinance the debt on the justice center and the 800 MHz system, saving additional money for the city.

Johnson said he was determined not to "overreact" to budget issues and did not want to cut positions in hopes the economy will continue to improve.

"I just don't want to be shortsighted and look at cutting positions to pay debt," Johnson said.

Morrison also said he was concerned that cutting more positions would hurt the city's ability to provide services and said that the growth the city has experienced over the past two bienniums and is expected to see in the next two years – a population increase of about 3,000 - should lead to about 27 new positions in the city, though the city has been keeping a lid on hiring.

"I think staffing-wise, we've kept a pretty good lid on it," Morrison said.

There is one new positions included in next year's budget though, a probation officer for the courts, which the city estimates will not only pay for itself, but also provide a little revenue within the department.

As far as revenue projections, Morrison said the city was looking for slow growth, though he said the city was "conservative" in its estimates.

"As long as we monitor it, we'll be in good shape," Johnson said.

The council was to discuss the budget during the Dec. 4 workshop with a goal of passing the spending plan Dec. 11.

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