The Liberty Lake City Council had three ordinances to approve Tuesday during a special meeting. The council approved its budget for 2012, decided to pay off its bond for the golf course and voted to reduce the utility tax to 3 percent.
Financial Director RJ Stevenson told the council paying off the debt would save the city $63,000 per year in payments, or $188,000 over the life of the bond, which would go back into the general fund. The council passed this decision unanimously.
But there was more discussion about what to do with the city’s utility tax which was implemented last year at a 6 percent rate on electricity, gas, cable, garbage and telephone services.
The council was presented with several options – keep it at 6 percent, set up a new ala carte rates at 2 percent for electricity and gas and 6 percent for cable, telephone and garbage collection, or cut it across the board to 3 percent.
Stevenson told the council both the ala carte option and the cut to 3 percent would bring the city about the same amount of money, around $622,000.
“I think a blended version is much friendlier to our businesses and our homeowners,” said Councilwoman Susan Schuler. She said she was leaning toward that, rather than 3 percent across the board.
Councilwoman Judi Owens disagreed. She said she felt the citizens would be paying more for phone, garbage and cable.
“It shifts a disproportionate amount to the people who live in the city. Businesses cost us money when they do business here,” Owens said.
She said the employees travel on the city’s roads and the police departments keep the businesses safe. In 10 years of living in the city, she hasn’t called the police once and she felt most citizens don’t, but the businesses do.
“But I’m sure glad we have them,” she said of the police.
Councilman Odin Langford said it is no surprise to anyone that he would like to see the city keep the utility tax at 6 percent across the board. He would rather pay the tax and think of planning for the city’s future than to cut the tax for the short term.
“People get over the fact that they are paying this,” he said.
Langford also felt there was no need for the council to rush into a decision about the utility tax and put a motion on the table to hold off on the vote until January. He was the only council person in favor of that.
Councilman David Crump said he felt a flat 3 percent cut benefited everyone.
“If we cut it equally, everyone is happy,” he said. He added that although cable and telephone can be seen as luxury items garbage is not.
Councilman Ryan Romney said he liked the idea of ala carte, since small businesses in the area were truly struggling to pay the tax.
The vote for ala carte was split evenly – Schuler, Cris Kaminskas and Romney voted in favor and Langford, Owens and Crump were not in favor. Councilman Josh Beckett was not in attendance. Mayor Wendy Van Orman couldn’t break the tie since the motion dealt with revenue collection, so the ala carte plan failed.
When the council then voted on the 3 percent utility tax, that vote was unanimous.
The council then voted unanimously to approve the 2012 budget, but not without discussion about whether it should include a provision to earmark $160,000 for a city administrator and whether to change the pay scale for a police officer and the planning and building manager.
It was decided to keep the earmark for the city administrator and then freeze the pay of those two employees, plus freeze step raises with the exclusion of anyone under contract to receive those raises. The council will come back to those issues at a later date.