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Liberty Lake City Council gets advice on budget crisis

Thu., Sept. 9, 2010, midnight

The Liberty Lake City Council continued to hear ideas to help solve an impending budget crisis expected to hit the city sometime next year, including closing the library.

During the council’s discussion Tuesday about the city’s budget woes, Mayor Wendy Van Orman explained the results of an online survey filled out by 150 citizens. Van Orman said that number represents 5 percent of the 2,500 households in the city.

She said residents ranked services by order of importance: public safety comes first, followed by street and trail maintenance, planning and building, parks and recreation, library services and the Trail Head Golf Course, in that order.

She said several residents suggested closing the library to save 50 cents from the $1.55 the city collects per $1,000 of assessed property value on their property taxes.

Councilmember Judi Owens said the library would have to be annexed into Spokane County’s library district if the city closed it, which would add another 50 cents to residents’ property taxes.

“It would be a very irresponsible move,” Owens said.

Councilmember David Crump added the city would not have control over those funds if they went to the county.

The council also discussed closing the library and not join the county system, sending residents to libraries out of town.

Owens did not like any of these options.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. She said the city was founded to have certain amenities for its residents and closing the city’s library goes against those ideals.

“I’m out of here if this council decides to close the library,” she said. “I don’t think you just start dumping stuff when times get tough.”

Van Orman told council Liberty Lake is the only city with more than 600 residents in Spokane County that has not charged residents a utility tax on items such as telephone, electricity, gas and cable.

Councilmember Josh Beckett said he feels the council can make cuts to staff and programs, but in the long run it won’t be enough to cover the city’s $700,000 shortfall.

“I feel we have no option but to raise taxes,” Beckett said. He felt like the city should not be run like a business, since governments are not profit-run ventures. He said he is in favor of imposing the utility tax.

Councilmember Susan Schuler disagreed with Beckett’s notion that the city should not be run like a business, saying that like everyone else during these tough economic times, the city should live within its means.

But she agreed with Beckett when it came to the idea of raising taxes.

“I know we’re going to have to raise taxes,” she said. She said she would vote yes for that, but it would be extremely painful to her.

“We have no options,” she said.

The next Liberty Lake council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at City Hall.

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