Treasurer provides look into budget

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NORTH BEND — North Bend City Treasurer Elena

Montgomery wants residents to understand their taxes — where their property taxes

go, what the city uses them for and what portion actually goes to North Bend.

"In this era of anti-tax initiatives, it's important for voters to know

how to vote on a particular tax so as not to eliminate taxes that pay for

services that the public needs and wants," Montgomery said.

She said residents should especially pay attention because when

initiatives such as 722, which was passed in November, come along, then

voters will understand that if they vote to cut taxes, they could be voting to

cut city-provided services, as well.

I-722 was a citizen-sponsored measure that, if not found

unconstitutional and overturned by the courts, will put a 2 percent limit on

property assessment tax increases and also roll back any tax or fee increases not

approved by voters from July through December of 1999. Currently,

I-722 awaits a February court date.

To understand the budget, know that first of all, only a portion of

the property taxes that North Bend residents pay actually go to the city —

14 percent, in fact. Then, 13 percent goes to King County, 32 percent to

the Snoqualmie Valley School District and 26 percent to the state school

fund. Another 2 percent goes to emergency medical services, 2 percent to the

Port Authority, 6 percent to the hospital district and 5 percent to fund

King County libraries.

The money the city receives from property taxes must be stretched to

pay for all the services residents are accustomed to.

"A resident who owns a $200,000 home in North Bend and pays

$752 per year (or $63 per month) for property taxes, sales taxes and utility

taxes in the city" of North Bend, gets many services in exchange,

Montgomery said.

These services are: 24 hour/ seven-day-a-week police services, fire

services and emergency medical services; park, ballfield and trail

maintenance; street maintenance; enforcement of building standards and

engineering standards; planning for land development; legislation of local laws; and

accountability for public money.

"You be the judge," Montgomery added. "TV cable service is $52

per month [on] average, and one latte per day amounts to $68 per month.

Conversely, it's important that city officials acknowledge that the public

feels overbudgeted with taxes when taking into account payroll taxes,

property taxes to all the different entities that levy them, not just cities, and

sales taxes on goods they buy."

North Bend's entire 2001 budget, which is the amount of money it

takes to run the city including staff and services, is set at $13.6 million. The

general fund portion of the budget that receives revenues from property

taxes is set at $3.9 million. When initiatives like 722 pass, the general fund is

the first to feel the pinch.

The North Bend budget will be leaner in 2001 because City

Council members have decided to honor the public's desire to have taxes

minimized. They voted for a property tax increase of 2 percent instead of the

full 6 percent they were legally allowed to implement.

The budget system is much like a checkbook — you can only

spend what's there. The city gets the largest chunk of revenue for its general

fund, 85 percent, from residents' property taxes. The rest comes from interest

and miscellaneous revenue, fines and forfeits, charges for services, such

as water and sewer, intergovernmental revenues, licenses, permits and

transfers of money.

Police services takes up 27 percent of the general fund, while fire

services takes up 15 percent. Engineering, planning and building amounts to

14 percent; administrative and financial services is at 13 percent; parks

takes 9 percent; flood control takes 5 percent; legislative services takes 2

percent; and legal and judicial services takes 3 percent. Central

services, which accounts for supplies, custodial services, utilities and

maintenance, uses 3 percent. Other miscellaneous expenditures use up 8 percent of

the budget, and finally, community-service grants are given 1 percent.

Montgomery said in order to balance the city's checkbook and

keep property tax increases to 2 percent, cuts were made in all departments.

To compensate for the decreased revenue, operation budgets for

each city department were cut, along with some legal expenditures and

community services, such as funding to paint the Mount Si Senior Center.

North Bend Councilwoman Elaine Webber said it's a shame for any

services to be cut. She wants more people to participate in the budget

process, which starts in August and ends in late November, so the city could learn

from residents how they would like the city to spend its money. This year, only

one resident spoke out about the budget during three public hearings.

Webber understands that most people don't have time to read a

city's budget when their lives are already busy, and she doesn't blame them

for wanting smaller tax increases.

"Having not been on the council and having somebody else

worry about [taxes] is easiest, and I can't fault anyone for not paying attention to

it," Webber said. "I don't blame people

for noticing it and being unhappy about [property tax increases] and

wanting to vote against it. Unfortunately, sitting down and figuring out why

the government is asking for more money and finding out what they're

doing with the money is a lot harder."

To make things easier, Montgomery provided information that

explains what changes were made to the upcoming year's budget. She and

Accounting Coordinator Stanley Lewis are working on a pamphlet that

will be distributed to community groups and will be available at City Hall.

The first news is good news — water, sewer and solid waste utilities

will not face increases in 2001.

As for spending, a part-time community officer was added to the

policing program, and the domestic-violence advocacy program

was broadened. The two expansions contributing a cost of $16,000 per year.

Other priorities for the 2001 budget are to:

• Secure additional water rights or wholesale water in order to lift

the building moratorium, which prevents residential and commercial

construction within city limits until more water rights are granted; to be paid

for with water revenues.

• Build a $2.8 million public works facility by issuing revenue bonds

to be paid back with parks dollars, streets dollars, water, sewer and solid

waste revenues.

• Revise the city's transportation plan with street dollars, and fix

traffic signals.

• Build two blocks of sidewalks on Ballarat Street using

Transportation Improvement Board grant money.

• Construct Tanner Trail, which will meander through town, using

federal recreation grant funding.

• Continue downtown revitalization efforts with sales tax revenue

from the Safeway strip mall.

Copies of North Bend's budget will soon be available. For more in

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