As the Liberty Lake City Council works through the details of the 2011 municipal budget, it might want to consider allotting funds for additional chairs.
Another standing-room-only crowd filed into City Hall on Tuesday night to hear Mayor Wendy Van Orman present her rendition of next year’s financial forecast, complete with adjustments that are anticipated to close a $700,000 deficit. The meeting also represented the first public hearing on the 2011 city budget.
“This budget reaffirms our priorities and defines the city we want to be,” Van Orman said. “I look forward to the discussions about this budget with both the public and the council.”
Van Orman and the council did hear a number of vociferous concerns from residents on Tuesday, including comments from former Mayor Steve Peterson who criticized the decision to cut hours at the municipal library and the city-owned golf course, Trailhead at Liberty Lake.
Peterson said the decision to close the golf course on Nov. 12 as well as plans to reduce the hours of Trailhead manager and pro Mollie Thola and groundskeeper Ron Knudson could end up costing the city in the long run.
“Was anyone with the city looking at the winter months as far as revenue?” Peterson asked.
Local golfer Joe Hagler, who has a season pass at Trailhead, presented the city with a letter that described how the functions of the course “should not be affected by the city’s budgetary woes.” Hagler added that the winter closure also represented a breach of the city’s contract for those with season passes.
“Mollie and Ron are two professionals who have done a great job,” Hagler said. “In 2004, this was little more than a pasture. I believe your decision is going to be very damaging to the course.”
In addition to keeping the course open through the winter, Hagler proposed that the city retain Thola and Knudson and implement a 6-percent increase on fees to help close the budget gap.
The 2011 budget, as presented by Van Orman, checks in at $12.47 million with the general fund at $6.29 million. The city will generate 87 percent of its resources from a combination of sales, property and a new 6-percent utility tax which will take effect on Dec. 26.
With a 5-percent drop in assessed property value and a 1-percent increase in the allowable rate of property tax, the percentage of property tax will go from $1.55 of every $1,000 of assessed value to $1.68 per $1,000.
Peterson recommended that the city look at the possibility of a levy lid lift that would raise the ceiling to $2.10 per $1,000 and generate another $464,000 for the general fund. The idea would need to be presented before voters with a simple majority required for implementation.
Resident Bob Moore, who told council he lives on a fixed income, questioned why the mayor and City Council were scheduled to receive pay raises next year while so many budget cuts were being made. Van Orman also announced Tuesday that there would be no cost of living adjustments for city staff in 2011 and no increases for the police department over the next three years. Mayor Pro Tem David Crump added that police representatives “had a good understanding of where the city is at” during the salary negotiations.”
As for the pay increases for herself and City Council, Van Orman said the decision was made by a salary commission comprised of three residents based on comparable reimbursements in other jurisdictions.
The announcement of a shift in library hours – from 46 to 32 – as well as the decision to reduce two full-time positions to part-time – did not go over well with library board members like John Louck.
“There seems to be a profound difference between management and micromanagement,” Louck told the council. “The problem is the library board feels like you are micromanaging.”
Peterson said the proposed reductions run contrary to the original mission of Ordinance 119, which established a municipal library back in 2002 and allotted 23 percent of property tax revenue for library functions. He pointed out that maintaining the initial rate would result in over $500,000 annually for the library instead of the 2011 allocation of around $320,000. Earlier this year, the library board presented the city with a recommended budget of $411,000.
“You have to realize that everything you’re doing in this process affects someone else,” Peterson said.
The second reading on the mayor’s budget is scheduled for the Nov. 16 City Council meeting. A public hearing on the budget is also part of the agenda.