The clock was running on public comments – and the Liberty Lake budget – at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The third public hearing on the 2011 municipal budget held citizens to a strict three-minute guideline in an effort to reverse a recent trend at the City Hall podium which found some residents going well beyond the established timeline when expressing concerns over the financial blueprint for next year. By the end of the evening, one City Council member had left in frustration over the ruling on community input, while the remaining representatives of governing board agreed to hold a special meeting next Tuesday to continue the discussion.
The 2011 must be approved by Dec. 31.
Former Mayor Steve Peterson continued his criticism of the fiscal approach for 2011, questioning the validity of an advertised $700,000 deficit as well as the city’s claims to have reduced spending by $1.3 million.
“I’ve seen hyperbole of talk in regards to the deficit of $700,000 for next year and a savings of $1.3 million,” Peterson said. “I don’t see it in the budget.”
Peterson – who served as mayor from 2001 to 2007 when he lost a re-election bid to current mayor Wendy Van Orman – also detailed the impact of a utility tax and property tax lid lift that will go into effect next year. Liberty Lake residents will pay a 6-percent fee on phone, cable, gas and electric services. The increase is expected to generate some $825,000 annually. The rate of property tax will go from $1.55 per assessed $1,000 to $1.72 per 1,000 in 2011.
Peterson said the utility tax will impact his household to the tune of $449 next year while the shift in property tax will mean another $75.
“That’s a 72-percent increase from what I’m paying this year,” he said.
Van Orman countered Peterson’s statements about misleading numbers by stating “there were a few things we didn’t know” when a preliminary budget was organized in early November. The city had set aside space for the potential loss of funds had statewide initiatives 1100 and 1105 both passed. Failure of both ballot measures last month will mean a continuation of tax revenue. Other funds have also emerged since the first budget draft, including nearly $19,000 that would have gone to mayor and council pay raises as well as another $37,822 in levied bank capacity.
After Peterson reached his three-minute public comment limit, resident John Mellick said he would donate his three minutes so that the former mayor could continue. After a proposal was raised to have other citizens bestow their time to Peterson, Van Orman called an end to the idea.
Shortly after, Council Member Susan Schuler – who had expressed support for Peterson being allowed to finish his remarks – left the meeting. Schuler and fellow Council Member Odin Langford both questioned some of the figures included in the mayor’s budget at various points throughout the evening.
“I feel, if someone has gone through the budget and found things we haven’t found, we should hear those people and take that under consideration,” Schuler said.
John Loucks, president of the Liberty Lake Library Board, followed Peterson and continued his appeal for the city to consider increasing the allotment for the library in 2011 from the $319,000 as stated in the mayor’s budget to the board’s revised request for just over $350,000. The board had originally asked for $411,000.
Mayor Pro Tem David Crump, a member of the city’s finance committee along with Langford and Council Member Josh Beckett, said the committee is recommending a budget of $340,000 for the library that would include an adjustment of $38,132 in utility costs and insurance. At the Nov. 16 council meeting, Loucks had argued that the library’s financial obligation in both areas should be proportionate to the amount of space it occupies in a building shared by the police department.
Crump added that the new budget numbers do not reflect a 10-percent decrease in staff salaries – a concession proposed by Loucks earlier in the month. Library hours would go from 46 to 40 per week under the plan while the two full-time positions, including that of Librarian Pamela Mogen, would be retained.
Meanwhile, it appears that representatives of the city-owned golf course, Trailhead at Liberty Lake, will have an opportunity to make an appeal for budget reconsideration similar to the one offered by the library. The course closed on Nov. 12 based on a directive in the preliminary budget to install a seasonal schedule.
Van Orman said she had spoken with both Mollie Thola, Trailhead manager and pro, as well as maintenance director Ron Knudsen about alternative ideas for the venue since the Nov. 16 council meeting. However, a presentation was not provided on Tuesday because the mayor indicated that Thola and Knudsen would need to abide by the three-minute citizen comment limit “since they are different from the library board and don’t have a spokesperson.”
Van Orman said Tuesday that she would speak to Thola and Knudsen about offering a presentation to the council during budget deliberations this month.
The City Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at City Hall beginning at 6 p.m. A public hearing on the budget will be included on the agenda.