Council divided over property tax increase

Published on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Following heated testimony from Blaine residents, Blaine City Council was left divided about a proposed property tax increase that would help balance their 2011 budget.

During their regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Blaine City Council gave an unofficial 4-3 vote to reject a proposed 1 percent property tax increase that would add an additional $9,300 to the city’s general fund budget.

The official vote, however, could change after council member Jason Overstreet, who represents the city’s third ward, steps down. Overstreet indicated he would vote against the increase and then announced his resignation during Monday’s meeting. The move comes after he was recently elected as a Washington state representative. As a result, he will not be present for the final vote scheduled for November 22.

Council did, however, indicate they would support a new utility excise tax on water, sewer and storm water of about 1.5 percent.

Budget cuts

Other budget items being considered include user fees as well as decreasing travel and training for employees, deferring the purchase of new equipment and decreasing the city cashier hours by two days.

Staff also looked at a 20 percent cut to the city’s street improvement fund, a 17 percent cut to funding of the Blaine senior center, a 14 percent reduction in funding to the Boys & Girls Club and the elimination of the city’s teen court and domestic violence commission funding.

Blaine resident Silva Gore, who owns Seaside Bakery Cafe on Peace Portal Drive spoke against the property tax, citing her struggles as a small business owner.

“As a business owner, I am always looking to cut wastefulness to protect my bottom line,” she said. “Sometimes that means scraping the ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard containers.

“These are pennies, but in my business, it adds up to a lot. Maybe we could look at this approach before deciding to further tax the residents of Blaine or make cuts to services?”

Several audience members also expressed concern about cuts to the senior center and Boys & Girls Club funding.
Council member John Liebert responded, “We knew everything had to be cut in some way, shape or form. None of us wanted to cut anything but as a matter of economics, it had to be done.”

Council member Scott Dodd agreed. “There’s nothing in this budget we haven’t looked at,” he said.

Others, such as Tom Bridge, said they favored lowering volume allowances for water rather than increasing rates as proposed by the Blaine Public Works department’s rate consultant.

“It would give people an incentive to conserve water and save money for people who use less,” Bridge said.

Laurie Bridge, of Blaine, agreed, adding that another way to cut expenses would be to decrease the salaries and benefits of city staff. Blaine resident Dennis Olason, however, reminded the council from the audience that according to Washington state law, they could not discuss personnel matters in public. The council agreed.

In the meantime, city staff will revise recommendations, which would likely mean more budget cutbacks. The council will resume their discussion during a special budget work session at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15.

Water rates

The city council also gave an unofficial nod of approval to reduce the volume allowance for water in lieu of adopting an across-the-board 3 percent rate hike as recommended by the city’s rate consultant.

The amendment would reduce the volume allowance for a standard connection from 300 cubic feet (about 2,250 gallons) to 200 cubic feet (about 1,500 gallons). It would also reduce the monthly base rates by $1.45 for most residents.

Sewer rates

Council also gave an unofficial nod to a proposed 14 percent sewer rate increase, which would tack on an additional $11 per month for single family residences.

If approved, the increase would bring the monthly rate to about $92.