Published 6:49 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

By Staff
During this budget-preparation season, the Washington City Council has taken great pains to avoid increasing the city’s property-tax rate. It appears there will be no increase in that tax rate for fiscal year 2008-2009, which begins July 1.
On Monday, the council is expected to adopt the spending plan for the next fiscal year. Although some fees for services such as water, wastewater treatment and stormwater management likely will increase, the council has made cuts that will keep the tax rate at its current rate.
In the past three to four weeks, the council, mayor and city manager have made reductions to the proposed budget that include big-ticket items such as vehicles to $200 items. Large or small, very few, if any, items were safe from the council’s paring knife.
During budget work sessions, city officials made it clear they are aware of the souring economy. They made it clear they wanted to avoid a tax increase, if possible.
That is how government officials should be thinking — considering how their actions likely will affect taxpayers. Such thinking shows they are worried about their constituents’ well-being.
The council, mayor and city manager have been extremely thorough in their quest to cut expenses and increase revenues so the burden on taxpayers is as small as possible. That’s evident to anyone who has attended each of the budget work sessions.
Will every city taxpayer and resident be happy with the new budget? No. It’s never worked out that way, and it will never happen.
For all the criticism that previous councils have taken for being a tax-and-spend body, and some of that criticism was deserved, this council has spent many hours looking to cut expenses. It’s succeeded in doing so, which is good news for taxpayers.
Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer developed a list of proposed modifications to the proposed budget that reduced it by $600,000. That list was not compiled in a matter of minutes. It took hours to develop that list, indicating that Mercer is more than just talk when it comes to easing the burden on taxpayers.
While the council, mayor and city manager looked for ways to reduce the budget, the one thing they kept in mind was the public’s safety. When a department head made it clear an item was absolutely needed during the upcoming fiscal year to protect the public, that item was left untouched — discussed, but left alone. That shows those officials are not making cuts just to reduce the budget without any consideration of how those cuts could affect the public.
As they were cutting items from the budget, the mayor and council added some items. Included in the upcoming budget is $2,000 for a water fountain at the promenade along Stewart Parkway. It will provide water for joggers, walkers and others who use the promenade. Although it’s a small item in a large budget, it shows the city is looking out for its residents and visitors.
No doubt, there are other things city officials should do to make the city more efficient so it can save money. This year’s budget work sessions show city officials are looking carefully at how they spend taxpayers’ money. They have shown a determination to avoid increasing taxes.
For the upcoming fiscal year, it looks like they have succeeded.
That’s good news for city taxpayers.