There has been a sense of nostalgia at Liberty Lake City Hall during budget deliberations over the past two months.
The town’s first mayor, Steve Peterson, has been a regular at meetings, chiming in on a variety of topics from the city’s first utility tax to proposed cuts at the municipal golf course. On Tuesday night, Scott Bernhard, part of the inaugural City Council, dropped by to voice his opinion about the management of greenspace. Even the duration of meetings – nearing the three-hour mark in most cases – has recalled the pioneering days following incorporation when leaders mapped out the course of Spokane County’s newest city.
By the end of the discussion on Tuesday, the City Council had unanimously approved a budget for 2011, a document that includes concessions for the library and Trailhead at Liberty Lake, the 63-acre golf course purchased by the city in 2002.
Residents will also see an increase in property tax next year, a change approved by the council in November. The rate will increase from $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $1.72.
In attempting to close a projected $700,000 deficit for 2011, the city’s governing board voted last month to implement a 6-percent utility tax. The fee will affect phone, cable, gas and electric services and generate an anticipated $825,000 a year. Mayor Pro Tem David Crump did remind those in attendance on Tuesday that the tax will be re-evaluated in June with an eye on the latest numbers from sales and property tax.
“The budget of the city is very fluid,” Crump said. “This should be a document that we monitor and it’s important that the citizens are involved in that.”
There was plenty of community involvement regarding proposed reductions at the golf course – a matter that reached some resolution last week when the council voted to reinstate the golf pro position at a full-time level. On Tuesday, it was decided that the role of Parks and Open space superintendent would be combined with the responsibilities of the golf course maintenance director, establishing one full-time position.
In her preliminary budget, Mayor Wendy Van Orman had announced that Trailhead would close on Nov. 12 while the salaries of golf pro Mollie Thola and maintenance director Ron Knudsen would be adjusted to a seasonal schedule.
The decision to combine Knudsen’s job with that of retiring Parks and Open Space Superintendent Michael Curry drew concern from several council members, especially when Van Orman announced the position would not involve a pay increase. The mayor said the salary – around $56,000 a year – is consistent with the compensation provided by other cities throughout the state for the same work.
Crump pointed out that landscape of the city has changed since the position and salary structure were established for both jobs.
“We’ve added Rocky Hill Park for one,” Crump said. “The scope of responsibility is greater.”
Van Orman said the position of Parks and Open Space superintendent will be posted this week with a hire anticipated by “the first or second week of January.” The golf pro position will not be posted, according to the mayor who added that Thola has the inside track on returning.
For now, Trailhead remains closed. Van Orman said the reopening will hinge predominantly on the weather.
Amendments to the preliminary budget approved by the council last week became official on Tuesday including a library budget of $340,000. Van Orman had originally recommended allotting $319,000. The new outline will reinstate the librarian and library technician at full-time levels and establish the weekly library hours at 40.