City of Lake Stevens makes budget cutsBY PAM STEVENS | EDITOR As with every other government agency, the City of Lake Stevens has had to cut their 2009 budget because of the economic downturn, especially the shrinking residential construction industry.
“The General Fund revenues are expected to go down $500,000,” City Administrator Jan Berg said. “$400,000 from building permits alone.”
Due to the fact that the City of Lake Stevens has very little commercial, the slow down in building activity and related permit fees greatly affects the revenue received by the City. To make ends meet the City needs to reduce its expenses, Mayor Vern Little explains.
In an effort to balance the budget the 2009 proposed Budget includes a reduction in three staff positions.
“A major portion of our expenditures are salaries and benefits,” Berg said. “Therefore, when revenues decline we have to look at those expenditures.”
The vital duties of these positions will be absorbed by the remaining staff; however the level of some services such as permit review will be slowed down due to the decreased workforce.
The planning staff continues to look at a streamlined process to minimize these slowdowns.
“We have to tighten our belts just as our citizens have to do. It’s particularly difficult in that we don’t have a large staff to begin with so any cuts in personnel do have an adverse affect to the levels of service that we can provide,” Little said. “The fortunate part is that our employees are a very dedicated group of people who deeply care for this community and will continue to work hard to do the best for the citizens.”
The City will be implementing a one percent property tax increase, which only pertains to the amount of property tax that is taxed by the city. For a house whose assessed value is $329,500 (the median house value in Lake Stevens) the total tax increase to the City will be approximately $3.29 per year.
“That’s what we are allowed to do without a ballot,” Berg explains.
Berg also explains that without the one percent increase there would be even more lay-offs and less services.
The efforts of City staff and City Council are to ensure that services throughout the City do not take a downturn. Berg explains that with the giant steps forward the City has made over the past couple of years, it wouldn’t help anyone to move backwards.
“We are trying to keep services at the same level,” Berg said. “I don’t want to go backwards. It’s hard to lose employees but we have to do what’s best for the City.”
City Council and City staff have listened to the citizens and realize that sidewalks and parks are top on their priority lists of improvements within city limits.
Therefore, The City is continuing to develop a sidewalk program and have included in the 2009 proposed budget funds to begin this project.
“We have heard from our citizens that sidewalks and safe walkways are important so we are trying to meet this need as well as provide the essential services that a City needs to provide,” Little said. “We are focused on a balance of service and long term progress. Long term planning will increase our commercial opportunities allowing us to have long term sustainability.”
With tax revenues down, building permits almost at a stand still and little commercial area within the city limits, there is no choice but to cut the budget.
“We are trying to do the best with what we have and give the taxpayers the most bang for their buck,” Berg said.
“Jan and staff have done a remarkable job of coming up with a balanced budget in these difficult financial times,” Little explained. “We have spent six weeks coming up with the right combination to balance this budget. The budget subcommittee has reviewed and suggested we take the budget forward to the entire Council for their review. We will spend another four to six weeks reviewing and making any minor changes to the budget with the City Council. With the amount of capital projects on our plate there may be some minor changes to the budget in the weeks to come. We will have the budget completed by Dec. 1.”