It’s a problem many city and county – not to mention the state and federal level – would like to have: How to spend down a robust reserve account.
Yet, for the past couple of weeks, that’s exactly the conundrum the Spokane Valley City Council has been faced with.
After nearly a decade of squirreling away money, keeping staff levels low and making only the most necessary capital expenditures (i.e. a small fleet of snowplows, City Manager Mike Jackson said the time has come to perhaps chip away at the $25.6 million – or 74 percent – of the general fund budget that makes up the city’s rainy day fund.
On Tuesday night – as well as a good chunk of last week’s meeting – City Council members debated the pros and cons of Jackson’s proposal to paring down that fund balance to $17.9 million, or 51 percent of the end fund balance, by earmarking $2 million for the replacement of the southbound lanes of the Sullivan Road Bridge, $2 million of a new City Hall, $2 million for future parks development and $1.8 million for capital reserves.
Jackson said the proposal is “a shift in philosophy,” but it doesn’t mean that the money is going to disappear tomorrow. Currently, there is no funding available for the bridge replacement, for example, nor has a location for a municipal-owned City Hall building been identified.
“The discussion has been over the years not to impose a new tax when we had substantial revenues,” Jackson said. “We’re talking about prudently spending this money down to around 50 percent.”
While it’s still uncertain what future revenue projections will be, since the money is in hand staff and council members wanted to make sure that it was understood that setting money aside for certain projects not be perceived as “deficit spending.”
“We’re not borrowing money to do this,” Jackson said.
Council Member Chuck Hafner said he has advocated setting aside as much as $4 million for the Sullivan Bridge project but realizes that may not be realistic. However, he said, “We have better needs than to put $2 million toward a city hall.”
Hafner said his focus continued to be to preserving city streets to reduce the cost of more involved reconstruction work down the line.
“We’re not a walking city, we’re a riding city,” he said.
Council Member Dean Grafos said he like the idea of continuing to earmark 6 percent of the general fund toward street preservation.
“Then we know it’s going to be in there,” he said.
Grafos also said he was not in favor of the city seeking a 1-percent property tax increase in 2013 as allowed by law, which would raise $108,000.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “I personally won’t vote for this budget with that in there.”
Mayor Tom Towey said he hasn’t made up his mind on whether or not the city should allow the property tax increase.
“I want to hear from the public,” he said. “From what I’ve heard, it’s not the 1 percent, it’s what we’re going to do with it.”
The council will have more discussion on the budget next week, as a public hearing is set for the Sept. 25 meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague. Another hearing has been set for Oct. 9.
Final adoption for the budget is planned for Oct. 30.