In a surprise move, the Mill Creek City Council revived the discussion regarding a Public Safety Sales Tax in the July 3rd city council meeting. This reversal from the City Council’s June 12th decision to end the debate was mostly due to Councilmember Terry Ryan’s change of mind.
At their May 12th all-day retreat, a majority of the City Council decided to address a projected $1.7 million 2013-2014 budget deficit with a combination of spending cuts, a shift of use for Real Estate Excise Tax funds (REET), a mixture of property tax increases and/or use of general fund reserves, and a voter-approved Public Safety Sales Tax.
At this time Councilmember Ryan joined Councilmember Donna Michelson, Councilmember Mark Bond, and Mayor Mike Todd in voting thumbs up to have City staff investigate this 0.1% Public Safety Sales Tax as a deficit reduction option.
However, at the June 12th city council meeting Councilmember Ryan said he had a difficult time making a decision regarding a new Public Safety Sales Tax without more budget information.
In an effort to provide some answers, Mill Creek’s Finance Director, Landy Manuel, said public safety is the biggest expense component of Mill Creek’s budget and includes police services and fire services. Manuel said that since fire services expenses are subject to contract and can’t be reduced, any further cuts required by losing the Public Safety Sales Tax revenue would probably have to come from the Police Department. Manuel said the Police Department has a larger number of employees than any other department. Acting City Manager, Tom Gathmann, said that two or three Police Department position cuts were being looked at but didn’t want to get into details.
At the end of the June 12th Mill Creek City Council meeting Councilmember Ryan said he still had more questions than answers and couldn’t sell the Public Safety Sales Tax to the voters, so he didn’t want to move forward with this option. Councilmembers Bond, Masterson, and Harmsworth also wanted to end the discussion. Although the issue didn’t come to a formal vote, Mayor Todd ended the discussion per the majority’s wishes.
The Mill Creek City Council left the June 12th meeting with the understanding that an additional $300,000 of the projected budget deficit would have to be filled in some other way. It was also understood that if further cuts were required, they would probably come from the police department.
In the July 3rd Mill Creek City Council meeting Acting City Manager Gathmann once again brought up the Public Safety Sales Tax at Councilmember Ryan’s request.
After Acting City Manager Gathmann’s introduction, Councilmember Ryan publicly disclosed his telephone conversation with Gathmann in which Gathmann said that an option for filling the $300,000 budget deficit is to eliminate one or more Mill Creek Police Department patrol positions. Ryan said, “We can’t do that. We have made a lot of progress against crime in this City and we can’t go backwards… Given we have more information now that we had when we made that decision. We didn’t know it would be patrol positions… It doesn’t have to be decided tonight, but have a discussion bringing this back and looking at this Public Safety Tax again, voter approved, or if there is another alternative that would come out in the discussion.”
Acting City Manager Gathmann said that cutting an additional $300,000 on top of the already agreed-to $500,000 of cuts would be very difficult to achieve. He said that he had discussed his preliminary plan handling the $500,000 cuts with the City’s department heads, “I didn’t get down to who is buying what version of software. I’m just looking at big chunks of money, $25-50,000 or more. And it was very difficult because there are some proposed cuts in the budget, layoffs of existing staff… It’s going to be really tough, really tight to make that $500,000. There are going to be some vacancies in PD (Police Department) that are going to stay vacant. We can’t fill those positions. Right now we are short in PD (Police Department) one officer and one PSO (Police Support Officer). We can’t fill those positions and make the $500,000. We can’t fill some vacancies in Capital Facilities, a maintenance worker. We have a planning manager position that will stay vacant. We have some other positions that are staying vacant. That’s the only way we can make these cuts… But we know based on doing that if there were an additional $300,000 we had to come up with. No way. There is no way we could do that. Unless you say we can go into reserves there is going to be more cuts.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Nielson said she knew that further cuts would be in the Police Department, “I don’t have a problem with having this discussion again. It was always my assumption that this side of the staff had been lean for a long time and that cuts would have to come from the police department based on past discussions.”
Mayor Todd said he was frustrated that the Public Safety Sales Tax didn’t go forward at the June 12th city council meeting, “The decision we made a couple of weeks ago was no, let’s not go ahead. Have staff quit working on this and do other and better things… We made that decision. I don’t think it makes sense to go back on this decision… Shame on us for not having asked them to do that two weeks ago or two months ago.” He also said he was worried that there was not enough time before the filing deadline to put the ballot information together.
After some additional debate, a majority of the Mill Creek City Council decided to revive the Public Safety Sales Tax as a deficit reduction option and directed Acting City Manager Gathmann to revisit the issue. Councilmember Ryan joined Councilmembers Mark Bond, Donna Michelson, and Mark Harmsworth in voting to continue the discussion in the July 10th Mill Creek City Council meeting.
Mayor Todd and Mayor Pro Tem Nielson voted against further discussion of the Public Safety Sales Tax because they didn’t believe there was enough time before the August 7th filing deadline for City staff and the city council to adequately prepare the necessary information. Both of them supported sending the Public Safety Sales Tax option to the voters in the May 12th Mill Creek City Council retreat.