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Utility tax, land top budget issues for Liberty Lake Council

As Liberty Lake puts together its 2014 budget, city officials must make two big decisions: whether to continue a 3 percent utility tax and what to do with vacant land at Mission Avenue and Signal Drive.

No one commented during a recent public hearing on the budget, said city Finance Director R.J. Stevenson, but he’s sure he’ll be hearing more about the city’s hot topics. “I hear more when we have our public hearings in November,” he said.

The city’s utility tax has been controversial since it was enacted in 2011. It was originally a 6 percent tax on telephone, electricity, gas and cable services.

The tax was reduced to 3 percent in March 2012, and this year it was earmarked for street projects, Stevenson said.

The other big issue centers on the vacant lot at Mission and Signal, which the city is considering turning into a park/town square. City staff recently learned its grant request for $425,000 – half what is needed to complete the park – is listed as an alternate by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.

“That’s going to be a pretty significant issue for our council is the future of that property,” Stevenson said.

Those two issues are expected to be at the top of the agenda for an all-day council retreat starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 11 at City Hall, 22710 E. Country Vista Drive.

The city is early in its budget process. Department heads have yet to submit spending proposals to the mayor. Stevenson is forecasting a modest 2 percent growth in sales tax revenue for next year. “We’re taking a conservative look at it,” he said.

Sales tax revenue is up so far this year, but it’s being driven by car and RV sales and Stevenson said he’s not sure how sustainable the increase is. He’s budgeting for a 1 percent increase in property taxes, which will generate about $20,000 in increased income for the city. The City Council will have the final say on whether property taxes increase, Stevenson said. “The clear picture comes out after the retreat,” he said.

The mayor is scheduled to present a draft 2014 budget to the council at the Oct. 15 meeting.

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