WALLA WALLA — City Council approved a $149 million biennial budget that includes increases in street funding, decreases in most other department — including police, fire and library — and an optimistic and possibly controversial goal to raise additional funds through a major annexation along the city’s southern Urban Growth Area boundary.
With all Council Members present, the budget was approved 6-1 with little debate among Council and only a few comments from the public; those public comments dealt with the proposed closure of the Pioneer Park Aviary.
Approximately two-thirds of the budget covers dedicated enterprise funds, such as water, sewer and trash.
The remainder is the city’s general fund budget, which funds police, fire, library, parks, streets, city government and a number of other programs.
Faced with flat revenues and increasing health care expenses for its general fund, city officials approved a budget that will raise taxes, eliminate one police officer, eliminate one fire prevention position and cause various program cuts across the board, including a reduction in library hours.
The city is also proposing to complete a major annexation next year that will net it an additional $200,000 in 2014 for additional property and utility taxes from residents in the city’s southern Urban Growth Area boundary.
The details of that proposed annexation have yet to be released.
The biggest winner in the proposed budget was city streets, an answer to one of the biggest complaints in a survey of residents.
The city will spend roughly $500,000 each year for chip seal and grind overlay of streets, and beef up programs for traffic signal repairs and line painting.
The approved budget is also expected to increase the city’s ending fund balance from roughly 9 percent to closer to 12 percent. Five percent is the minimum allowed by state law and 15 percent the recommended amount.
The one dissenting vote against the budget came from Council member Shane Laib, who throughout the budget process objected to increasing property taxes by using banked levy capacity, but favored lowering the 12 percent ending fund balance goal to make up the difference.
“I don’t feel this is a proper budget. I feel that our tax increase was wrong. I don’t think the annexation has been thought out. I think it is a pipe dream,” Laib said.