Public hearing to elicit views on proposed city budget|Spending plan keeps tax rate at current level

Published 10:12 pm Sunday, May 24, 2009

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor
Washington taxpayers and residents will be able to comment Tuesday on the proposed city budget for fiscal year 2009-2010.
A public hearing on the spending plan begins at 6:30 p.m. The City Council begins a budget work session at 4:30 p.m.
City Manager James C. Smith’s budget calls for no increase in the property-tax rate, which is at 60 cents per $100 valuation, and no city-employee layoffs. It keeps fees for water, sewer, stormwater, solid waste and trash collection at existing levels.
Smith’s proposed $11.3 million general-fund budget does call for reduction in some services, mainly accomplished by shortening hours at facilities such as Brown Library and the Hildred T. Moore Aquatics and Fitness Center. The proposed general-fund budget, which covers day-to-day operations of city government, is $2.3 million less than the current general-fund budget — a 16.9 percent reduction.
Smith’s recommended overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $62.4 million, or $7.96 million less than the current fiscal year budget of $70.36 million. Of that $62.4 million, $39.6 million is for Washington Electric Utilities.
The council has final say on the budget, property-tax rate and most fees the city collects.
During budget work sessions this spring, Mayor Judy Meier Jennette and council members have been carefully reviewing proposed expenditures and revenue sources in an effort to reduce costs, find additional revenue and avoid laying off city employees or reducing their work hours.
Estimated general-fund revenues for fiscal year 2009-2010 are at $13.62 million, down from projected revenues of $15.88 million for the current fiscal year.
“I’d like to find out about the facade grant money,” said Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, who plans to speak at the hearing. “That would be the main thing I’m trying to find out about, and any other improvements they may have planned for the downtown area.”
Earlier this year, the council took $15,000 earmarked for alley improvements and moved it to the city’s facade-improvement program. Downtown Washington on the Waterfront recommended the move, saying merchants in the central business district would be better served by spending the money on storefront improvements than alley improvements.
Tomasulo agrees, adding that he wants to make sure that money will stay with the facade-improvement program.
Tomasulo said he wants to find out if the city plans to provide any funding for an urban-design study of Washington’s central business district. Earlier this month, the council adopted the Citizens for Revitalization’s report concerning criteria for that study as the city’s current position on revitalizing downtown.
Last year, the city charged the informal committee with reviewing two previous studies of Washington’s downtown/waterfront area to help develop a new revitalization strategy for that area. The group was tasked with taking several elements from each of the studies and combining them into a new strategy for how best to use the downtown/waterfront area.
Tomasulo said he is worried the city will spend money on another plan that will join others sitting on a shelf.
“Why have another plan if you are not going to do the plan?” he said.
During its work session, the council is scheduled to discuss budgets for the fire department, emergency medical services, E-911, public works director, street maintenance, equipment and the city’s enterprise funds — water, sewer, airport, stormwater management and cemeteries.
Copies of the proposed budget may be reviewed by the public at Brown Library or in the Washington City Clerk’s Office in the Municipal Building. The budget session and hearing will be conducted in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 102 E. Second St.