News

Council adopts no-frills budget

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

The city of Enumclaw will spend more than $35 million next year to keep the city operating largely as it has for the past 12 months.

Members of the City Council approved the 2005 spending plan Dec. 13, during what turned out to be their final meeting of the calendar year. With the budget adopted and no pressing business before them, council members followed custom and canceled their regularly-scheduled meeting of Dec. 27.

Two key developments highlight the 2005 budget, each having an impact on local pocketbooks. First, the council stuck with its goal of keeping property taxes where they are. Under terms of a statewide initiative passed a couple of years ago, cities are allowed to increase property taxes by 1 percent annually. The Enumclaw council passed on that option.

However, while opting against a tax increase, council members handed the decision to city residents. As part of its initial budget request, the Enumclaw Fire Department made a plea for two additional full-time, paid firefighters and asked that a half-time dispatcher's position be bumped to full-time status.

There were arguments made for increasing the citywide property tax (without a public vote) to pay for the positions or dipping into reserve funds, but a council majority voted to put the request on the Feb. 1 ballot. If they want the improved fire protection, city property owners will increase their taxes by 9.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would result in another $18.60 in taxes for the owner of property valued at $200,000.

The biggest portion of any city's budget is the general fund, which pays for essential functions such as the finance office, police department, community development (with its planning, engineering and building divisions), parks and recreation, city administration and the senior center. For 2005, Enumclaw's general fund budget was set at slightly more than $8 million.

Also taking a big chunk of the budget are so-called enterprise funds, which are meant to be self-supporting; that is, the money generated by users should equal total expenditures. Included here are the water utility (with a 2005 budget of almost $5.4 million), natural gas ($5.2 million), sewer ($3.9 million) and solid waste ($1.7 million).

The only utility rate touched recently was natural gas. Users were hit with a 10.5 percent rate increase last month, a move that added another $5.90 to the average monthly gas bill, according to a city cost analysis. During the colder, winter months, the recent rate hike means another $8.44 on the monthly bill. The increase was in response to higher supply costs.

Other big-ticket items in the city's 2005 budget include the street fund, $815,000; fire department, $629,000, and emergency medical services, $502,000; swimming pool operation, $504,000; and the city-owned cemetery, $294,000.

When looking at the total budget, about 60 percent can be attributed to employee salaries and benefits, according to City Administrator Mark Bauer. When the city's reserve funds are taken out of the equation, he said, the figure jumps to about 75 percent.

City employees received relatively small increases in the 2005 budget. Bauer said most pay hikes were about 1.5 percent.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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