The Bothell City Council approved the 2019-2020 budget — a balanced budget of approximately $277 million — on Nov. 27 with a 6-0 vote. Mayor Andy Rheaume was absent and excused.
According to City Manager Jennifer Phillips, “the city of Bothell is facing financial challenges in meeting the demand for, and cost of, services with current revenues.”
The city relies on three major revenue streams to fund services for its citizens: sales tax, property tax and utility tax. The cost of services is increasing, but state law limits Bothell, and all cities in Washington, to an annual increase in the property tax levy to 1 percent, plus new construction.
Bothell did not raise property taxes from 2007 to 2012, though doing so would have raised about $4 million, and did not reduce services during the recession. The city also pursued a business strategy more focused on small retail than big box stores. Those were past council decisions that ultimately impacted the city’s current revenue base, Phillips said.
The councilmembers at the Nov. 27 meeting praised the openness and transparency of this year’s budget process, noting that the city is facing financial challenges. Deputy Mayor Davina Duerr said that the discussions, especially about the 1 percent cap, have been “illuminating.”
“This budget process was designed to fully analyze each department’s revenues and expenses; to more accurately project expenses; and to share with the City Manager, Council and community the true cost of doing business and unfunded needs,” according to the city manager’s budget message.
The city is ending 2017-2018 with a $926,337 General Fund deficit, and is projected to end 2019-2020 with a $431,427 General Fund deficit. Still, the council did decide to add some staff positions over the next biennium: a senior inspector (funded by permit fees), a volunteer coordinator, an economic development manager and a part-time sustainability assistant.
It also made some cuts, like eliminating the “living wall” in City Hall, and will explore some efficiencies, including court regionalization.
“Like many communities, staff will also conduct a comprehensive study of the city’s municipal court to determine if regionalization is a viable option for Bothell,” according to the budget message.
Bothell will also focus on selling the remaining five city-owned downtown parcels. Significant staff resources and funding will be required to complete all the environmental clean-up and to sell them, according to the budget message.
Other fiscal priorities for the coming year include developing a strategy focused on long-term financial sustainability and working with the business community to study revenue options, including a head tax or a B and O tax.
The 2019-2020 does not include funding for Proposition 1 or Proposition 2, the ballot measures passed by voters in the November general election. Implementing those will take time, Phillips said, as it will take months to hire new police officers and design the fire stations. The council is likely to look at a budget adjustment for the propositions after next August.
“With continued strong leadership from the City Council, passage of the two propositions, a highly talented staff and an engaged community, innovative solutions can be developed to turn our challenges into opportunities that deliver cost effective services to keep Bothell a very special, safe and sustainable community that will thrive through the next decade,” according to the budget message.
See www.bothellwa.gov/budget for more.