Sting aplenty in City of Walla Walla budget

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WALLA WALLA — More taxes, fewer employees and more program cuts pretty much sums up the bad news for the city’s 2013-14 biennial budget.

The good news?

The city will put more money into street repair this year and, hopefully, end up about 1-2 percentage points closer to its reserve-fund goal of 16 percent, with a projected reserve fund of 10.2 percent in 2013 and 11.8 percent in 2014.

On Monday, City Manager Nabiel Shawa conducted his first public work session dealing with the proposed 2013-14 biennial budget.

In his preliminary budget, Shawa said the plan is to cut one police officer, one fire prevention officer, close the Pioneer Park Aviary and raise property taxes by dipping into the banked levy capacity to capture an additional $185,228.

At the heart of the city’s budget woes is general fund, which pays for police, fire, parks and recreation, library, public works, development and city government.

In 2012 the general fund was budgeted at $24,881,980. Next year it will amount to $25,079,690 and then drop in 2014 to $25,060,970.

While the general fund is slightly higher than in previous years, Shawa said it isn’t enough to keep up with increasing costs caused by:

  • A 6 percent to 10 percent increase in medical and dental insurance premiums.
  • State mandated increase of 7.5 percent to 9.1 percent in retirement contributions for PERS members.
  • Required city employee salary increases averaging 1.9 percent.
  • Salary and other increases related to new contracts for all three labor unions, which include police, fire and city employees.
  • The reinstatement of the city’s vehicle replacement fund, which was temporality eliminated to cut costs in 2011 and 2012.

Police

In 2011 and 2012, the Police Department was budgeted $7.27 million and $7.69 million.

Shawa has proposed funding police with $7.81 million for 2013 and $8.04 million in 2014. While the funding is an increase, operating costs, projected labor increases and higher pension funding will put the department in the red and most likely require the elimination of one officer to save $80,000.

Shawa said a current vacancy in the department will remain unfilled, leaving the total commissioned officers for 2013 at 41.

In 2010 there were 45 commissioned officers on the force.

Fire

In 2013 the Fire Department will receive $4.28 million and $4.38 million in 2014. In 2011 and 2012, fire received $4.3 million and $4.38 million.

The current plan is to cut one of two fire-prevention officers, saving the department $105,000; reduce the Fire Technical Response Team from 17 to 9 members by joining the Tri-County Team with Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Yakima for a savings of $17,000; and other reductions that total $65,000, Shawa said.

Parks and Rec

The closure of the Pioneer Park Aviary topped Shawa’s presentation list for Parks and Recreation cuts.

The department’s budget includes three months of funding to relocate the birds and additional funding for removal of pens and site restoration.

The savings to the city will be $55,000 per year.

It should be noted that the last two years of funding for the aviary were by the donations from the public.

Shawa said the justification for the closure came with the completion of a recent residents survey, where people were asked to rate the importance of everything from police to library service to bike lanes to drinking water. Of the 20 services included in the rating, the Pioneer Park Aviary came in last.

Other Parks and Recreation cost saving measures include reducing janitorial services at all major city facilities, increasing recreation program fees and increasing cemetery fees.

Library

Despite facing an overall reduction in funding for 2013, the library will actually see an increase in its portion of the general fund from the previous year.

Shawa plans to give the library an additional $120,000 to help offset the loss of funds from the lack of a Rural Library District contract.

The current 2012 library budget is expected to finish at $1.04 million. Next year the library will see that reduced to $911,110 and $917,120 in 2014.

To cut costs, the library will not fill a vacant library technician specialist position and will eliminate a current library specialist position.

Hours will also be cut for three library associate employees.

The materials budget will drop 10 percent next year and 28 percent the year after.

Finally, the library will cut hours from 47 to 37 per week and be open Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Taxes

As if cuts aren’t enough, and the city says they aren’t, this year the city will take its full 1 percent tax levy increase, the most allowed by state law.

Added to this will be an additional $71,860 in forecast additional property taxes from new construction.

Finally, the city will use half its banked levy capacity from previous years in which the city forwent taking a 1 percent increase.

The city also will double its parking fines to raise an additional $19,000 and transfer investment income to the general fund to raise an additional $30,000.

Street repair

In answer to residents’ biggest complaints about living in Walla Walla, the city will spend roughly $500,000 each year for chip seal and grind overlay on streets.

An additional $100,000 will be spent each year for the painting of centerlines, crosswalks and bicycle lanes.

The city will also fund $450,000 each year to repair traffic signals and street lighting, and another $48,000 will be spent each year on sign maintenance.

In addition, the city will also see work on a large section of Rose Street funded through dedicated sales-tax revenues and next year’s IRRP projects will include complete infrastructure and road replacement on sections of Pleasant, Home and Fern streets.

Comments

Over the next few weeks the city will hold several public meetings at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.

They include a second City Council work session on Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. and three City Council meetings Nov. 14 and 28 and Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

Comments

Chas 2 years, 1 month ago

I'm pleased to see the Aviary settled. I'm sorry to see it go, but it is finally decided.

I'm pleased with the priorities. (and thankful we have a newspaper to report them)

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