A fairly stable budget for 2014 means the Spokane Valley City Council’s biggest decision may be how many capital projects to complete.
Projected revenues and estimated expenses are both going up slightly more than 4 percent for 2014, with a general fund budget of $36.8 million, up from $35.2 million in 2013. The proposed budget does not include the allowed 1 percent property tax increase.
“We have an extremely sound budget,” said City Manager Mike Jackson during a daylong budget workshop Tuesday. “Sure, we’re not going to have the money for all the capital projects, but who does? I think we can get it done, but it will take a little time.”
One change to the budgeting process was how departments accounted for rising payroll costs.
This year, departments were asked to cap the growth of nonpayroll expenses at 1 percent, but payroll expenses were allowed to increase more, Jackson said. The payroll increases were primarily driven by rising costs for health insurance, retirement programs and other benefits. Previously, each department had to keep its total annual increase to 1 percent, so rising benefits costs required cuts in other areas.
The biggest capital project on the city’s list is the replacement of the west Sullivan Bridge. The city is $4 million short of the estimated $19.8 million cost and needs to begin construction this year to avoid losing some of the grant funding. Other projects include the construction of the Appleway Trail, putting in landscaping on Appleway Boulevard and developing Balfour Park.
Jackson cautioned against spending all the money in the capital projects fund right away or dipping into reserves to pay for projects. The reserves are there so the city can continue to provide basic services even if there is a drop in revenue. “You can’t have reserves and spend them,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Council members also discussed the possibilities of adding new police officers in 2014 or 2015. The city contracts with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement and has maintained a staff of 44 patrol deputies even as other jurisdictions have laid off officers after budget cuts. The city’s population and calls for service have been increasing, but police staffing has not, said Councilman Chuck Hafner. Running a city is not all about parks and good roads, he said. “Without a safe city, those aren’t worth a darn,” he said.
Jackson said each new officer costs $150,000 a year, which includes a car and all the necessary equipment. He said one option would be to use the allowed 1 percent property tax increase to fund a new officer. “You could take that 1 percent and focus that on law enforcement,” he said. “There’s not a lot of available general fund money to add programs or officers.”
The council also considered a list of special requests from city departments, ranging from $1,100 for postage to $65,000 to replace the picnic shelter at Edgecliff Park.
Finance director Mark Calhoun is asking to add a help desk technician in the two-person IT department for $65,000 a year. That position would replace a consultant that is paid $100,000 a year to work about 700 hours.
The new employee would work 2,080 hours a year for much less, Calhoun said. “I think we’d see a substantial increase in services,” he said.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Stone asked for $40,000 to expand the sand volleyball courts at Brown’s Park. The park’s courts are busy, and adding more could make it a destination for tournaments and other events, Stone said. “You could really make Brown’s Park a great venue,” he said.
Public Works Director Eric Guth would like to hire a planning grants engineer and split the cost among the general fund, the street fund and the stormwater fund. “We currently contract out for quite a bit of this,” he said.
The city pays an engineer $80,000 a year to come to City Hall two days a week, he said. Hiring an engineer would cost the city $100,000 annually, but the city would get 70 percent more work, he said. “The difference in cost is pretty minimal,” he said. “We feel this would be a good move for the city.”
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