Council considers possible cuts if tax hikes don’t pass in August

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The Mountlake Terrace City Council listens to a presentation by City Manager Scott Hugill (second from the left, facing away) about the city’s budget.

The city’s reserve funds are projected to be empty by the end of the year without a new revenue source or without major cuts.

So, if either a 44-cent levy lid lift or a 0.2 percent Snohomish County sales tax are not approved during the Aug. 2 election, cuts will need to be made to city services.

(The sales tax increase would affect all of Snohomish County, but the city of Mountlake Terrace expects to receive approximately $500,000 per year if it passes. The 44-cent levy lid lift is specific to Mountlake Terrace and would raise funds for renting space for City Hall while a new permanent City Hall is built and to fund parks if passed.)

A total of $450,000 would need to be cut from the city’s annual budget. City Manager Scott Hugill has identified $213,588 that can be easily cut, which means $236,412 would need to come from city programs.

The problem is, there aren’t many places the city can make those cuts.

“The city has had an 18 percent reduction in staffing since 2008, but we are still facing a fund balance of zero at the end of this year,” Hugill said during a presentation to city council on Thursday.

Then he went through, one by one, the programs the city funds and where cuts can be made.

The easy cuts include leaving one code enforcement position and one parks maintenance position vacant. Both are currently vacant positions. The city would also reduce publishing the “City Happenings” newsletter from six times to four times per year, charge a fee for customers using a credit card to pay for services at City Hall and eliminate training and travel for the city clerk and city manager.

After those cuts, it would not be reasonable to reduce parks staffing and police staffing and maintain the same level of service. Administrative and financial staff are already staffed at the minimum levels. Engineers and facilities staffs are often partially paid for by grants, utilities or other outside funding sources, so it would not free up as much of the general fund as would be required and would cause a problematic reduction in service.

“There is nowhere to cut, other than whole programs,” Hugill said.

What the city would need to do is get creative.

Councilmember Doug McCardle asked if it would be possible to get out of renting the current Interim City Hall space.

“Maybe we can ‘diversify’ City Hall by moving services into several buildings the city already owns,” McCardle said.

Hugill said the city is locked into a lease, but subletting the space would be allowed. He said it is not likely that the entire space would be sublet out, but it may be possible to sublease part of the building.

“For example, we may be able to sublease the council chambers and move our council meetings to the library,” Hugill said. Council met in the library for a while after the ceiling collapsed in the then-48-year-old city hall in 2008, exposing asbestos and causing the city to enter this lease when it decided to move instead of repair the building.

Councilmember Bryan Wahl asked if the city is providing services that could be done differently.

“I want to see our parks clean and usable and safe, but are there ways to possibly get more volunteers in helping maintain the parks?” he asked. He also thanked volunteers who have worked in Mountlake Terrace’s parks in the past. “This is the kind of outside the box thinking we are going to have to do.”

Councilmember Laura Sonmore asked whether each department has individually looked at jobs that could possibly be combined. She also asked if the city is doing everything it can to save money on things like office supplies.

Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto-Wright expressed her concern that a revenue measure may not even pass, as voters know that this would not be the end–the levy lid lift would only pay for rent and parks, but the city would also need to pass a measure in the near future to build a new City Hall.

Wahl concurred.

“I appreciate the work that is being done here, but we’re only halfway there,” he said.

Hugill asked the City Council to closely look over the city’s budget over the next month and decide where cuts should be made should the levy lid lift or Snohomish County sales tax do not pass.

–Story and photo by Natalie Covate

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