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Redmond budget plan retains services
Seattle Times staff reporter
Even though Redmond voters spurned a new property-tax levy to pay for more police, firefighters and parks earlier this year, Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives says she knows folks in her city don't want services cut.
That's why she proposed a 2007-08 city budget that would maintain service levels by spending less on capital improvements such as new roads and parks.
The budget, which would also increase the city's property tax, business-license tax and utility rates, corrects an imbalance in which Redmond has spent heavily on capital but neglected operations, Ives said. During the summer, the city had rotating closures in fire stations until the City Council spent emergency funds to open them.
"We've cut, and we can't cut anymore without the public really feeling it," Ives said.
Results from a recent citizen survey showed little support for service cuts, Ives said. Rather, residents want tax money used for services and capital improvements to be financed with voter-approved levies.
In addition to the tax increases, the proposed budget would lower the amount of the general fund going to capital projects from more than 14 percent to 8.6 percent, an amount Ives asserted is still adequate.
In a July policy statement, most council members opposed moving capital-improvement funds to operations. That document did endorse two tax increases in the budget: a $6.75 per employee increase in the city's business tax, to $90 per employee; and a 1 percent increase in property tax, which would contribute $125,000 a year to the budget's $127 million two-year general fund, Ives said.
Nov. 14: Public hearing on the budget at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Nov. 21: City Council scheduled to vote on budget
The proposed budget includes $77 million in debt financing to extend the Bear Creek parkway and pay for downtown storm drains and sewer improvements. Residents' utility rates would go up $13.49 per month, on average. The city would also start to tax city-owned utilities generating $2.6 million annually.
Redmond's costs have outpaced revenues for years, Ives said.
Adjusted for inflation, property taxes in Redmond have gone down 30 percent over the last decade, and can't cover city workers' rising pension and health-care costs. Despite population growth, the city has about 20 fewer workers than it did six years ago, Ives said.
Ives wants to fix that with supplemental proposals that would further raise the business tax to $120 per worker, and ask voters for an additional $0.26 property tax levy to fund police, fire, and parks.
Even at that rate, Redmond's business taxes would still be lower than other employment centers like Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. Redmond has less than 50,000 residents, but more than 80,000 people work in the city.
City Councilman Richard Cole, who cast the sole vote against the 2005-06 budget, said the city already has a "staggering deficit" of money for roads and shouldn't cut capital spending.
"It doesn't in any way, shape, or form meet what the council asked for," Cole said of the budget.
But something's got to give, said Ives, and it shouldn't be police or fire.
"It's amazing that we've been able to hold onto the quality community we have" in spite of recent cutbacks, she said.
Joe Mullin: 206-464-2761 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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