On a night when the Liberty Lake City Council voted for a step up in property tax, representatives of the municipal library stepped forward with a budget alternative of their own.
Two weeks after Mayor Wendy Van Orman presented a proposal for significant cuts in library spending – including the reduction of hours from 46 to 32 and the shift of two full-time salaries to part-time – Library Board President John Loucks provided the City Council with an updated budget for 2011 on Tuesday night.
Loucks began with what he called “an historical overview of the budget process,” detailing the last four years of the city’s expenditures on library services as well as the projected allocation for 2011, currently at just under $319,000, as stated by Van Orman. Going back to 2007, the library’s budget stood at around $376,000 and increased to roughly $455,000 the following year. After a drop to nearly $432,000 in 2009, funding reached an all-time high last year at close to $470,000.
Initially, the library board submitted a budget of $411,000 to the city for next year, but at Tuesday’s meeting, Loucks told City Council that the newly revised plan came in at $350,317.
Loucks also announced that library employees agreed last Friday to reduce the weekly hours from 46 to 40 and take a temporary 10-percent cut in salary.
“Talk about above and beyond the call of duty,” Loucks said. “This tells me that the library staff is dedicated to what they’re doing here.”
In crunching the numbers for 2011, Loucks brought up what he described as a disparity between the amount the library pays for utilities and facility insurance compared to the police precinct located in the same renovated warehouse. Since the library occupies only 31 percent of the building, Loucks maintained the annual rates of both bills should be lower, totaling $3,418 in insurance and $13,950 in utilities.
“The way it stands now, I don’t think it’s fair and the board of trustees don’t think it’s fair,” Loucks said.
In closing the gap between the library’s new budget and the mayor’s proposal, Loucks said there was also the option of drawing from the library capital facilities fund or the city’s reserve fund, currently at $1.2 million.
After Loucks’ presentation, the City Council deliberated on an increase in property tax that was also mentioned as a possible solution to the library’s financial dilemma.
Initially, Ordinance 189 set the rate for 2011 at $1.68 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but an amendment by Council Member Josh Beckett adjusted the amount to $1.72 per $1,000 – a figure that includes the 1-percent allowable annual increase as well as utilizing banked capacity.
Liberty Lake residents paid a property tax rate of $1.55 per $1,000 in 2010, the second lowest level among jurisdictions in Spokane County. Since incorporating in 2001, the city has deferred the 1-percent increase each year.
Beckett said considering the city’s financial situation – which includes a projected $700,000 deficit for 2011, proposed cutbacks at the library and municipal golf course as well as reductions in city staff – it may be time to reconsider the property tax bargain.
“I don’t find the claim to fame that we have the second lowest property tax in Spokane County to be a badge of honor,” Beckett said.
After further council discussion and comments in support of the increase from several residents, the shift to $1.72 was approved by a vote of 4-2.
While the hike is expected to generate some $38,000 in additional revenue, Mayor Pro Tem David Crump said the funds should warrant consideration for equitable distribution among both the library and the municipal golf course, also facing severe cutbacks of its own.
Changes in the property tax levy need to be certified by Spokane County no later than Nov. 30 while the city has until Dec. 31 to wrap up the 2011 municipal budget. Van Orman reminded those in attendance on Tuesday that discussions concerning the preliminary budget would continue at future council meetings.
“Please realize that this document is a starting point,” she said.