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Kenmore, Bothell officials review cities' budgets
Their 2011-2012 budgets are on the minds of legislators in both Bothell and Kenmore, though the budget process is a bit more advanced in the latter city.
Early this month, Ken-more Finance Director Joanne Gregory unveiled proposed general-fund expenditures of $9.3 million in 2011 and $9.4 million in 2012. Since then, Kenmore City Council has held several budget workshops with city administrators further outlining their spending proposals.
For the most part, councilmember comments and questions have been kept to a minimum.
“What we’ve learned is there is a small surplus,” said Mayor David Baker. He added there seems to be no support among councilmembers for raising the city’s property taxes.
“We’re in pretty good shape considering the economy and what some other cities are going through,” Baker said.
He added the administration will wrap up its budget presentation at council’s meeting Oct. 25. Legislators then will be asked to submit initial budget questions in writing, Baker said.
A consistent critic of how Kenmore handles its finances, Councilman John Hendrickson described the current budget process, with council not asking direct questions, as “bizarre.”
“But it’s consistent with how they’ve been dealing with this,” he added.
Hendrickson said it’s too soon to tell if the city has a budget surplus or not.
“That depends on how you do the math,” he said.
Baker accused Hendrickson of preaching “gloom and doom” and contended the deficits projected by Hendrickson in the past just have not materialized.
Legislators here just began their budget discussions Oct. 19. As did Kenmore’s Baker, Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said his city is in good shape financially, considering the overall economy. Stowe went so far as to say Bothell has been a “bright spot” among local communities in terms of its finances, with no major layoffs or budget cuts having been made or on the horizon.
Overall, Bothell officials are weighing general-fund expenditures of $73.6 million over the next two years. That figure does not include any increase in property taxes. Stowe did propose creation of a transportation benefit district that would allow the city to collect a $15 license-tab fee for every vehicle registered within Bothell.
According to Stowe, the tab fee would replace a streetlight fee Bothell stopped collecting in 2009. The streetlight fees brought in about $300,000 annually, he added, costing property owners about $19 a year. The money was used to cover the cost of powering streetlights, as well as some street programs.
For 2010, Stowe later said the city simply absorbed the revenue Bothell lost with the discontinuation of the lighting fees. He added the budget won’t allow that practice to continue. Stowe contends the tab fees represent a better “nexus,” or method, for collecting street-related revenues. Still, starting with Mayor Mark Lamb, councilmembers showed no support for imposing the fees.
“I have a tough time supporting that tax,” Lamb said.
In answering questions from council, Stowe said the only alternatives would be raising some other tax, such as the city utility tax.
One other item in the budget — or actually not in the budget — got a lot of attention from council. Stowe said revenues do not support the hiring of a city parks and recreation director, but several legislators said they hope that is an issue they can revisit as the budget process moves forward.
Other highlights from the initial budget discussion include:
• Stowe and the city administration are proposing a 4.5 percent increase in Bothell’s water rates in 2011, with Stowe stating the increase is a direct result of an 8.5 percent increase coming from Seattle Public Utilities.
Stowe also said the city will be forced to pass along a 14.5 percent hike in sewer rates coming from King County. The result could be local sewer rate increases of 9.5 percent next year and 7 percent in 2012.
• Despite some criticism from the public, Lamb and others defended the city’s purchase from the Northshore School District of 18 acres along Bothell Way Northeast. Lamb said the $20.6 million price tag does carry financial implications for the city, but he believes it will be more than worth it in the long run, starting with the previously announced plan for a McMenamin’s hotel and entertainment complex.
Deputy Mayor Joshua Freed argued that “money attracts money,” that the city’s investment will pay off in private investment and increased city revenues. Though he offered no details, Freed said Bothell officials have been in discussions with a number of developers. He also said Bothell has received 15 proposals for its so-called “City Hall” block.