After years of warnings from Mountlake Terrace city officials that there would be no more money to pay rent for city hall offices beginning in 2014, City Manager John Caulfield announced Monday that the city would be able to adjust its budget enough to find approximately $500,000 to meet City Hall rental payments next year.
Caulfield made the announcement at the City Council meeting on July 1, a meeting at which councilmembers were prepared to begin discussions on whether to bring a property tax increase proposal to voters this fall to raise some additional city revenue. The council adjourned without the property tax levy lift lid being formally proposed, effectively killing the idea for this year.
After presentations on the condition of city-owned buildings and current city finances, Caulfield took away any suspense concerning the council seeking a possible tax increase proposal for the November ballot. “Let me just cut to the chase: our recommendation is you not do that for the simple reason that we have been able to identify a source of funding , because things do change, within the existing general fund to be able to accommodate rent in 2014,” Caulfield told the council.
City officials said that more than $200,000 of general government cuts over the next year, plus additional unexpected revenue means that money will be available to make rent payments for city hall offices in 2014. The unanticipated funds that the city is seeing in its coffers include casino tax revenue, higher property tax revenues, income from telecommunication tower lease collections, and an increase in pet license revenues.
While city officials outlined a number of reductions that could be made to the city budget, specific cuts will be decided upon during the budgeting process early this fall. General areas that city officials speculated could see cutbacks included recreation and parks administration, park services labor, city council training, city government mailings, police department staffing, and street and building maintenance.
Responses from city councilmembers to the recommendation to pass on a property tax ballot measure for this fall was mostly favorable. “I’m not ready to go out for another bond issue,” said Mayor Jerry Smith. “I think we ought to try it, just live within our means and see how we survive. We’re going to be out a few police officers and a couple of other things, but we’ll see if it works. If it doesn’t we will have to come back.”
“I do not support a levy at this time,” said City Councilmember Bryan Wahl.
The City of Mountlake Terrace has been renting almost 17,000 square feet on the second floor of the Redstone Building at 6100-219th St. S.W. since 2009. Rental payments are being made from a bank line of credit. Payments on the bond anticipation note (BAN) are scheduled to begin in 2014.
While making adjustments to the current city budget to meet rental payments for city hall was the general consensus among councilmembers, some also expressed that capital needs around the city may necessitate increased tax revenue in the future. “I like the idea of going with the finances that we discovered that we can use because the assessed value is going up and we do have a (new) casino and so forth,” said Councilmember Kyoko Matsumoto Wright. “But again, I’d like to look into what exactly will a levy lift lid do for some of the other things we need to do.”
Councilmember Seaun Richards was more direct in his support for a property tax increase. “I find it kind of interesting that this conversation started with an overview and analysis of public buildings needing about $1.2 million in Band-Aids. And then, all of a sudden, we find out that the City Manager and staff have found about $500,000 to pay rent. I feel we really need to start working on these building needs. I think we should do a levy lid lift and spend the money on the buildings and not kick the can down the road,” he said.
In order to put a property tax levy lid lift on the November ballot, the city council would have to pass an ordinance to do so by the first week in August. Caulfield said that timeline could be “doable,” but he and his staff would need council direction to pursue that at Monday meeting.
— By Doug Petrowski