2011 city budget brings end to free bus rides
December 7, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
City highlights transportation upgrades in spending plan
The free ride could end for Route 200 bus riders next year.
City Council members plan to recommend for regular King County Metro Transit fares to be collected on the route.
Leaders intend for Route 200 fares to be used to help expand transit routes throughout the city and perhaps to Squak Mountain.
The recommendation and more than a dozen others outline a series of goals and initiatives in the 2011 municipal budget. Transportation — including the Metro Transit proposal and dollars for road upgrades — forms the basis of the plan.
The council is scheduled to adopt the spending plan Dec. 20.
The recession forced city leaders to slash spending and lay off employees late last year. The budget for the year ahead is not as austere as the most recent spending plan.
“The buzzword now is talking about resetting budgets, and I would say that this is a reset budget,” Mayor Ava Frisinger said. “It continues the resetting that was started in 2010.”
The council called for funds to be transferred from long-term road projects to pay for $530,000 in short-term street upgrades — dollars to fill potholes and apply fresh asphalt on trouble spots.
The fund for such street projects had been diminished to about $150,000 as leaders assembled the 2011 budget.
“Even the amount that the council has pulled from a number of different sources and tried to pool isn’t a huge amount,” Frisinger said.
The decision to collect fares on Route 200 buses is the latest bump in the road for the free shuttle service.
The city and Metro Transit, Issaquah Highlands developer Port Blakely Communities, retirement community Timber Ridge at Talus and the Talus homeowners association shared costs to extend the route to the highlands and Talus.
The parties agreed in December 2008 to add the highlands and Talus to the route. The city has emphasized Route 200 as a priority, but the recession has slowed the planned rollout to the urban villages.
The council also called for staffers to develop a plan to identify road trouble spots for police and highlight the areas for possible improvements.
Besides the transportation proposals, the council is due to send a broad plan for the year ahead to city staffers. Council President John Traeger outlined the proposals in a Dec. 6 letter to Frisinger.
“The council’s deliberations resulted in adjustments that reflect the council’s priorities, and balances program needs with city resources,” the letter states.
The recommendations resulted after the council huddled in a series of deliberation sessions to adjust the 2011 budget throughout October and early November. Some proposals included in the budget germinated at a daylong council goal-setting session in May.
The perennial issues connected to downtown parking should receive additional attention from city staffers. The council directed planners to study parking requirements for existing and prospective businesses in the historic downtown area.
The council also directed the Parks & Recreation Department to outline the steps needed to form a special taxing district to fund improvements to the aging Julius Boehm Pool.
The city has conducted a separate study to determine upgrades needed for the pool. The price tag for improvements could top $30 million, but the city lacks the dollars to fund large-scale upgrades.
Frisinger said the idea could be a tough sell due to the down economy and the funds needed to maintain public pools.
“Based on past experience, I have not seen a very strong probability of being able to do this,” she said. “We certainly will evaluate and investigate and so on.”
The portfolio for the parks department also includes a recommendation for staffers to offer assistance to a community skateboarding group.
The skateboarding enthusiasts asked the council last December to consider building another municipal skate park. The existing park near the Issaquah Community Center has fallen into disrepair and ill repute after the original backers passed responsibility to different parkgoers.
Like the proposal to overhaul the pool, the idea to add a city skate park is a pricey idea.
The agenda for next year also calls for staffers to continue a “paperless” office initiative and craft a proposal to remake the difficult-to-navigate municipal website. Other housekeeping items include a recommendation to break down city financial data in order for elected leaders to examine past expenses more easily.
The recommendations build upon the proposed budget offered by Frisinger in early October. The mayor proposed a $30.4 million general fund budget for next year — a slight increase from the $29.8 million general fund budget in 2010.
Money collected from property taxes accounted for almost one-fourth of the general fund revenue in the 2010 budget.
The general fund is used to pay for police and fire services, community development and planning, parks and recreation, and municipal government.
The council conducted a public hearing in November to discuss a possible property tax increase. Council members later decided against a 1 percent property tax on account of the economic downturn.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.