News

City's 2004 budget has few frills

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

The Enumclaw City Council is looking at adopting a few-frills budget for 2004, taking a stance that reflects the relatively flat economic conditions found throughout the region.

The council has spent six nights reviewing elements of the 2004 budget, firmed up the numbers during a meeting last week and is expected to give its final, formal approval to next year's spending plan Monday night. That meeting - which begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall - is billed as a public hearing, giving the public a chance to comment.

If there's a bit of good news, it's that Enumclaw's revenues are expected to show slight growth. Mayor John Wise said other cities throughout the Puget Sound region are anticipating decreased revenues during the coming year. The city's sales tax dollars are expected to grow just a bit, and the City Council still must decide what to do with property tax collections. State law allows the city to bump property taxes by 1 percent and Wise has suggested the council do so; as a group, however, the council has not determined if they'll impose the increase or leave rates at 2003 levels.

Here are a few key elements of the 2004 budget under consideration.

€ Tax rates: The biggest factor here is the tax increase approved last spring to pay for the community swimming pool. Rather than allowing King County to mothball the facility on the Enumclaw High School grounds, voters stepped to the plate and authorized a tax increase, effectively allowing the city to take ownership of the pool. The city will cover the cost of operating the facility through the remainder of the year, but the voter-approved tax increase - 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value - will be collected beginning Jan. 1.

That 16 cents equates to an additional $32 in property taxes for the owner of a home and land valued at $200,000.

The city's overall tax rate may climb less than the 16 cents, however; other rates could be dipping slightly as the cumulative value of property throughout the city limits has increased.

It's anticipated council members will determine Monday night if they're going to seek the additional 1 percent in property taxes for 2004. That move would generate an additional $17,000, City Administrator Mark Bauer said.

€ Personnel: The good news is no one will be getting a pink slip due to budget restrictions. Wise said there may be some reorganizing during the year as employees retire, but there will be no immediate job losses.

The lone addition to city staff, Bauer said, will likely be a part-time clerical position for Human Services. The city shuffled some of its departments a year ago, moving a limited number of operations away from Parks and Recreation and putting them under the direction of Library Director Bob Baer, creating the new Human Services Department. While Baer was given additional responsibilities, he was given no extra help.

A factor that could impact the city budget after the first of the year is the ongoing process of labor negotiations. The city is engaged in negotiations with all its labor groups and the council is considering a budget that shows just a 1 percent pay increase for all employees.

€ Utility rates: City residents will be paying more for a couple of utilities. The council previously agreed that the cost of natural gas would climb by 7 percent and made the increase effective the beginning of this month. Also, the city has been ramping up the cost of water for its residents over the past few years, and 2004 will bring another 7 percent rate hike.

€ Construction projects: The city is taking something of a "catch up" posture for 2004, following a busy 2003 which saw a complete face-lift of downtown. The Streetscape project, which involved four blocks of Cole Street and two blocks of Griffin Avenue, had been in the works for years and carried a construction price tag of $1.6 million.

The most visible projects for 2004 will be construction of a mile of pedestrian trail on the city's south side and installation of traffic lights at two busy intersections. As the city wraps up its Second Street improvement project, lights will be installed at Second and state Route 410 and at the Second Street/Griffin Avenue intersection.

€ Looking to the future, Wise has pushed for a $40,000 expenditure that would help determine Enumclaw's ability to attract tourists and benefit from the money they bring. The council is expected to approve the money, which would pay for a professional consultant.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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