By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
The Mill Creek City Council unanimously passed an almost $60,000,00 balanced 2019-2020 Biennial Budget at their December 4, 2018, meeting.
In order to balance the budget, the city council plans to use almost $4,000,000 of reserve funds to pay for increased spending, mostly in capital projects.
According to Mill Creek’s preliminary 2019-2020 Budget Book, “Total budgeted revenues, including the Capital Improvement Plan, are $58,796,945 for 2019-2020, which is an increase of $1,085,409 (2%) over the previous biennium. Total expenditures are $58,796,945 for an increase of $10,065,417 (27%) over the previous biennium.”
Former City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto in part balanced the 2017-2018 Biennial Budget by slashing spending on capital projects for surface water systems and road maintenance.
At their November 27th meeting the city council passed a 1% Emergency Medical Services property tax increase, and a substantial Surface Water Fee increase, but held the general property tax constant.
Not all councilmembers were happy with this budget.
At the December 4th meeting Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw commented that Polizzotto used large general property tax increases to reduce the use of General Fund reserves to balance the budget. He advocated that a 1% general property tax increase be used in 2019 to meet the council’s guiding principal of sustainable financial stability.
He said, “To me this is like a gambler’s budget.”
Holtzclaw went on to explain that the city council is gambling that revenue will continue to increase and be higher than budgeted. He said he was worried that economic signals are forecasting a downturn next year, which may result in reduced revenue.
In order to meet the city council’s request for a zero increase in general property taxes, Interim City Manager Bob Stowe didn’t include three staff positions in the budget that results in some reduced services.
The three staff positions not included in the budget were a public works maintenance worker, a police officer, and a deputy city clerk.
At the December 4th meeting Stowe explained there would be some lost opportunities due to not filling these city staff positions such as the ability to maintain the city’s parks and streets to the expected level, reduced police investigations, and responsiveness to public records requests.
However, in his budget message to the City Council, Stowe noted, “The Budget not only maintains basic services, it makes strategic investments into the City’s future and helps preserve our infrastructure and previous investments as we carefully steward taxpayers dollars.”
According to a City of Mill Creek press release, “Details about specific departmental budgets and work plans are included in the Departmental Expenditures section of the proposed 2019-2020 Biennial Budget, which is available online at www.cityofmillcreek.com/2019-2020budget."
“The budget document will be finalized in the next several weeks to reflect Council discussion during the budget development process and revised numbers based on recent Council action, including an increase to the Surface Water Utility rate and a 1 percent EMS tax increase.”