Council approves budget|It votes 3-2 for planto maintain tax rate

Published 3:22 am Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Contributing Editor

A 3-2 vote by the Washington City Council on Monday set in place the budget for the next fiscal year.
Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer and Councilman Gil Davis voted against the spending plan. Council members Richard Brooks, Darwin Woolard and Archie Jennings voted for it. Mercer said he could not support “a budget that’s full of smoke and mirrors, and I’m going to vote against it.”
Before the vote, Mercer warned his colleagues he would vote against the budget because “in my opinion, we do not have a balanced budget.”
Mercer questioned the accuracy of some of the revenue numbers and expenditure figures in the budget, particularly an appropriation for workers’ compensation in the water fund and an allocation in the electric fund.
Mercer, looking at a revised budget summary, said there was “no reason or rhyme behind the changes” in the updated summary.
Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s chief financial officer, attempted to explain the changes, but before he could finish his explanation, Mercer again asserted his belief the budget was “smoke and mirrors” and his intention to vote against it.
The overall $63.5 million spending plan for the next fiscal year is $6.9 million less than the current $70.4 million budget.
The 2009-2010 budget, which takes effect July 1, keeps the current property-tax rate of 60 cents per $100 valuation. That means the property tax on a $100,000 house comes to $600.
The budget keeps fees for water, sewer, trash collection and stormwater management at existing levels. The budget adjusts some other fees — library, recreation, pool and the like — either up or down while leaving fees for other services and programs unchanged.
The budget reflects a significant drop in revenues this fiscal year and a continuation of that decline, to some degree, in the upcoming fiscal year. The general-fund budget calls for a reduction in some services, mainly accomplished by shortening hours at facilities such as Brown Library and the Hildred T. Moore Aquatics &Fitness Center.
Estimated general-fund revenues for fiscal year 2009-2010 are at $13.6 million, down from initially projected revenues of $15.9 million for the current fiscal year.
At the beginning of this year’s budget process, the council and Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said they wanted to avoid laying off employees and reducing their salaries despite the downturn in revenues and a sagging economy. The budget allows them to avoid those measures.
The new budget includes a $39,500 allocation to help pay for an urban-design study for the city’s downtown/waterfront area.
That study, to be performed by LandDesign, a Charlotte-based company, will cost $51,000. The part of the study not paid for by the city will be paid for by funds from other sources.
The study is expected to produce a new strategy for how best to use the downtown/waterfront area.