2011 municipal budget clears City Council hurdle

December 14, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The trim 2011 city budget continues to inch closer from plan to reality.

City Council members offered another round of comments about the spending plan, and then — in a unanimous decision Dec. 6 — directed city staffers to prepare the formal budget ordinance for adoption. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget Dec. 20.

Discussion centered on the general fund — the $30.4 million budget piece used to fund police and fire services, community development and planning, parks and recreation, and municipal government.

“It’s a $30 million budget for the city of Issaquah, and I think people assume there’s a lot of money flying around,” Councilman Mark Mullet said. “When you’re actually in the meetings, it’s very impressive how everything does get analyzed down to that last decimal point.”

The spending plan calls for free rides on Route 200 buses to end in 2011. The document also emphasizes short-term street upgrades, such as repairs to potholes.

In a letter sent to Mayor Ava Frisinger before the Dec. 6 meeting, the council called for funds to be transferred from long-term road projects to pay for $530,000 in short-term street upgrades.

Councilman Tola Marts said the planned road upgrades amounted to a wise investment.

“We’re in tough times, but these are critical pieces of infrastructure and the city will be stronger as a result of the process,” he said at the meeting.

The focus on street-related transportation spending irked citizen activist Connie Marsh, the only person to address council members during the public hearing before the decision. (The council also received a written comment from Issaquah Highlands resident Matt Barry.)

“This last year, it seems like I spent an inordinate amount of time at meetings where everybody is saying, ‘We are going to be a walkable community. Everybody’s going to take transit. The bicyclists are going to be amazing, and we’re going to get rid of these darn cars,’” Marsh said. “This goes from the Central Issaquah Plan to the Rowley meetings. It’s all about making other ways for people to travel.”

The city is in the midst of a long-term effort to outline redevelopment in Central Issaquah and on about 90 Rowley Properties-owned acres. Both plans emphasize mass transit and pedestrian-friendly features.

“Then, I go to the budget meetings, and I find instead that we aren’t figuring out a way to actually do our Complete Streets so that we have sidewalks and ways to ride our bikes, because we’re never spending that money,” Marsh said. “So, let’s just remove that and let’s pave the streets and make sure they’re in good condition. I don’t understand how we’re making short-term decisions not to make it easy to walk and ride your bike, how we are ever going to get to our long-term of having a walking and biking and multimodal community.”

Complete Streets is a plan to include pedestrian and bicycle connectors alongside roads.

“I think there were a lot of good things in the budget. There were a few things I didn’t necessarily agree with,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said. “Ultimately, it’s a consensus document. We do spend a lot of long fall-into-winter nights trying to hash through it page by page and come up with the best possible budget for the next fiscal year.”

Frisinger said the budget reflected months of deliberations among city staffers and elected officials to reach a feasible plan for the year ahead.

“There was considerable analysis done by the council, very thoughtful work done,” she said after the meeting. “There was a recognition that I heard expressed at the last council meeting that the council felt that the budget was well-prepared to start with and reflected things that they thought were important to the community.”

Get involved

City Council regular meeting

  • Agenda: 2011 municipal budget adoption
  • 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20
  • Council Chambers, City Hall South
  • 135 E. Sunset Way

Budget Q&A

Does the proposed budget contain a property tax increase or fee hikes?

No, the mayor and City Council decided against a property tax hike or fee increases for 2011. Though the council considered a hike to offset potential impacts related to liquor-privatization measures on the November ballot, council members abandoned the proposal after voters rejected the liquor initiatives. Under state law, local governments can only raise property taxes 1 percent per year. The council has not raised property taxes since 2007.

Does the proposed budget cut municipal services?

The lean budget maintains existing services for city parks, police and fire response, and other general services. The spending plan does not include any employee layoffs, either. The city has about 200 employees to handle police services, community development and planning, parks and recreation, municipal government and the Issaquah Municipal Court.

What large-scale projects does the city plan to fund in 2011?

The anemic economy has meant reduced sales-tax revenue and less money from building permit fees — key sources of city dollars. The spending plan for the upcoming year reflects the economic downturn. Officials shifted money from long-term road projects to pay for short-term programs to fill potholes and lay fresh asphalt on worn city streets. The council pushed numerous capital projects into 2012 and beyond.

Why did the city decide to end free rides on Route 200 buses?

King County Metro Transit plans to start collecting regular fares on the buses next year. The city intends for Metro Transit to use the additional dollars to help expand transit elsewhere in Issaquah, including, perhaps, to Squak Mountain. Neighborhood residents lobbied for increased transit options in the past. The fare proposal has attracted little attention so far, although the council could yet face a backlash from transit proponents.

How does the city formulate a budget?

Council members gather for a goal-setting retreat in May to form a list of plans for the year ahead. Then, after the council has trimmed the goal list, the items head to city department chiefs to be included in the priorities for the upcoming budget. The departments form budgets throughout the summer, and then submit the proposals to Mayor Ava Frisinger, who presented the proposed budget to the council in early October. The council finalized the document by mid-November.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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