CityOKs $40 million budget for 2007

Published on Thu, Dec 21, 2006 by ara Nelson

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City OKs $40 million budget for 2007

By Tara Nelson

The city of Blaine is set to receive one police officer, a new fire marshal, and a new police vehicle, as well as improvements to city hall, the Blaine public library and community center, in 2007.

During a special meeting of the city council December 18, council members voted 7-0 to pass an approximately $40 million budget for the 2007 year. The total budget represents a 2.6 percent decrease from last year’s budget of $41.4 million.

Blaine city finance director Meredith Riley said the decrease is a result of the completion of the construction of the boardwalk along Peace Portal Drive and the near completion of improvements on Marine Drive.

She added that unanticipated expenditures relating to the Blaine municipal airport had reduced the general fund reserve to approximately $100,000 – far below the recommended minimum balance of $600,000. Riley said the total amount of money loaned to the airport fund from the city’s general fund to date is $450,000.

In a December 11 meeting, council members had previously requested the finance department reduce general fund expenditures by $100,000 with that money being transferred to the general fund reserve as the airport loans have depleted that reserve.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said some of the areas in which the council had previously suggested for funding cuts such as the senior center or improvements to city hall “really won’t work.”

Tomsic said, for example, the $300,000 the city has set aside in funds for city hall improvements is not eligible for cuts because it is funded through the city’s real estate excise tax funds rather than general fund revenues.

“There were some issues where some of the larger chunks of money were for capital improvement projects weren’t funded through the general fund,” he said. “In the end, after getting some sense of the analysis, we determined we would just do an across the board cut in the general fund budget.”

Tomsic, however, added that several programs, such as the senior center and the Boys and Girls Club, were not cut although they were eligible.

Council member Charlie Hawkins said he wanted to know if the city could ask North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) to provide a higher proportion of funding for the position of fire marshal, so the city of Blaine could put the money toward an additional police car.

“I have a real problem with our fire district being not restricted to the same amount of tax increases as the other jurisdictions,” he said referring to a recent $1.87 levy lift passed by voters in the former district three. “It seems like to me they’re going to be collecting 80 percent more money this year. Everyone else has taken the bite except for the fire district. I don’t know why they’re not paying for the fire marshal.

City council member Bruce Wolf agreed.

“Charlie’s got a very strong point,” he said. “I don’t think the citizens really understand that the fire percent of the property tax is going to go up 70 percent because of this levy lift. Indeed, we’re getting a lot more service and people are very glad about that. But I don’t think it’s too much to expect to have them help us with the fire marshal.

“I would be extremely upset with the fire district, in fact, if they did not help us with it and if there’s a way to get around that, we’ve supported them in the past 100 percent, and it’s time for them to help us in our time of need. I think we have to work on that.”

Blaine police chief Mike Haslip said he was not sure if the city could ask NWFRS to help fund the position since Washington state law does not give fire district’s fire marshalling authority of their own. He added that, absent the addition of a new fire marshal, he was concerned about the district’s ability to provide adequate fire inspections and permit reviews.

“Part of what they’re working under now is a significant long-term under-resourcing issue and probably perhaps even more so than the police service that we have in terms in trying to come up to speed with these growth issues,” he said. “It appears disparate. I’ve heard some members of the public and council use the term ‘double-dipping’ in reference to Blaine citizens being asked to pay their share of county taxes and, at the same time, being asked to pay from our current expense fund to help with the fire marshal plan. But, the greater public good from my point of view is to proceed with the funding of the fire marshal.”

Haslip added that in addition to a new fire marshal, the district’s 2007 staffing plan includes returning full-time personnel to the Semiahmoo fire station, increasing their presence between Birch Bay and Blaine, and hiring more significant personnel to bring the area back to the level of service residents have enjoyed in years past.

“I agree and I wish there was a way to have the county just pick up the bill,” he said, adding that the Whatcom County fire marshal had previously attempted to assist the city with some of their issues but didn’t have the staffing to deliver the level of service the city of Blaine requires.

“But North Whatcom is now our service provider from east of Lynden and south of Semiahmoo, and if I was a resident in one of those other areas I don’t know what extent I would be interested in having North Whatcom pay for a fire marshal for the city of Blaine.”

Tomsic said the because the city has not yet signed a formal agreement with NWFRS, there is still an opportunity to discuss possible funding changes.