News

2002 budget mindful of economy

SNOQUALMIE - One word for next year's city budget: conservative.

With the sharp downturn in the economy following the Sept. 11 attacks and the potential of a property-tax limiting initiative winning voter approval next month, Snoqualmie officials have spent the last several weeks juggling numbers in an effort to hold the line on spending.

Only one department would see an increase in staff, and the city plans on completing large endeavors such as the Tree Farm Sports Complex, improvements to Southeast Park Street and the Army Corps of Engineers' 205 flood reduction project, which would widen the Snoqualmie River near the Falls.

They aren't forced to make any cuts to services, but city leaders will be keeping a watchful eye on revenues, ready to limit spending should the money coming in fall below what's expected.

In all, the city's budget for 2002 would be $20.07 million, according to a revised proposal discussed during a City Council workshop Oct. 16 - up from this year's total of $18.45 million. City Administrator Gary Armstrong said much of the increase stems from the city's ability to win grants.

"We leverage a lot of money in this city. We've been very fortunate in going out and getting grants," he said.

Of the $13.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation that Snoqualmie property owners would pay next year, $2.69 of that would go to the city, while the rest would be distributed between King County, the Snoqualmie Valley School District and other taxing entities.

City Treasurer Shirley Leonard said the 2002 budget was crafted on the assumption that Initiative 747, which limits property tax increases to 1 percent without voter approval, would pass in the Nov. 6 general election.

If it doesn't, she added, the City Council would be asked to approve an ordinance setting the levy limit factor at 106 percent, instead of 101 percent as it would be under I-747. That would give the city an additional $56,000, which Leonard said would be added to next year's proposed contingency fund of $177,000.

"It's kind of like a savings plan if we're lucky enough [I-747] doesn't pass," she said.

Citing recent reports that show a decrease in median income and an increase in business office space vacancy in the Seattle and Bellevue areas, Councilwoman Cathy Reed cautioned that the city might need to tighten its financial belt even more and scale down next year's budget.

"I'm very concerned that we be more conservative than what we are," she said, adding, "I think we have some serious economic times ahead and we need to be very, very conservative."

Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said instead of making cuts to the 2002 budget proposal, city staff would be mindful as 2002 progressed of the local economy and limit any major purchases should revenues dip.

"If the revenue doesn't come in, you don't get the big-ticket items. ... I think we can get to the same end, but maybe in a different way," he said of being conservative.

In a move that reflected the city's concern for what happens next year, Armstrong said he decided against hiring a grant writer, a position that he originally thought was needed.

"That was the first person I cut out of the budget because I wanted to set an example," he said.

The Fire Division would spend $30,000 next year to begin planning for a new station, estimated to cost $2.5 million, and at the meeting, Deputy Fire Chief Bob Rowe said he would apply for a federal grant to replace one of the division's aging engines.

He explained the city had applied this year but was turned down because it asked for more than $500,000. However, with the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the federal government has been asked to increase the amount of money available to fire departments for grants and equipment, which could help Snoqualmie obtain the engine.

Armstrong said the city is planning to renovate City Hall, which was heavily damaged in the Feb. 28 earthquake. Snoqualmie would provide $50,000 toward renovation costs, which are expected to total about $400,000, while the city's insurer and a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant would fund the rest. Since the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually quake, City Council meetings have been held at the Police Division building.

While City Hall would be fixed, the added-on mayor's office would be torn down, Armstrong said.

In the next year, the amount of parks maintained by the city will almost double - from 14 this year to 27 in 2002. And it will include 122 acres of Falls Crossing land north of Snoqualmie Parkway that was preserved as open space in the Snoqualmie Preservation Initiative. Because of the additions, the Parks Department is asking for a new full-time employee and another seasonal worker.

A public hearing on the preliminary 2002 budget will take place Nov. 13 at the Snoqualmie Police Division building on Southeast Douglas Street, with council approval of a final budget slated for Dec. 10.

You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at barry.rochford@valleyrecord.com.

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