As we come to the end of 2016, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ll be writing more often, hopefully monthly, in the “Mayor’s Corner”.
The City Council passed the 2017 budget on Wednesday December 14th. One of the Council’s goals has been a balanced budget, especially in the “General Fund”. It pays for police, court, administration, finance, and the recreation and building departments. We have other funds for streets, parks, and utilities. General Fund revenues are a portion of your property taxes, sales tax, the tax levied on power, phone, and cable services, as well as fines/penalties from the court. The General Fund includes a balance for Reserves. Reserves pay the bills from January to May until property taxes are due. They also help us withstand recessions and emergencies so that we don’t need to reduce services to our citizens.
New home construction has greatly helped the General Fund during the last few years. So while we currently bring in more revenue than expenses, this due to extra building activity, future activity is an unknown and can fluctuate. If construction was at a more normal rate we would actually face a deficit of about $100,000. Therefore I recommended to Council that we add a utility tax of 2.5% because we cannot depend on unknown future building activity. This increase would have raised your monthly utility bill by about $2.50 a month (less for seniors and the disabled). The state gave cities this taxing authority about 30 years ago because they realized how difficult it was, especially for smaller cities, to pay for government. Most cities in the state adopted the tax. Orting is one of only three cities that has not adopted it. None of us like tax increases, but I have come to see how important it is to sufficiently fund city governments and still hold them accountable and wise in how the funds are used. Council members asked me to take this out of the 2017 Budget while they wrestle some more with how to close the gap. I agreed.
The Council approved a utility rate increase on December 14, 2016.th. Your monthly utility bill will go up about $6 a month, again less for seniors and the disabled. There are miles and miles of utility pipes and lines with an estimated value of about $100 million in town. Some of these are very old and will need replacement. We also must keep up with state requirements to improve our utility systems. Since our utility bills are 20% below our neighbors in this region, the Department of Health is very concerned that we will not have the money for needed repairs and replacements. I disagree with their concerns and want to assure you that our utilities are in good order.
We expect construction to begin early spring on a left turn lane on Washington Avenue at Whitesell. I suspect that you are as frustrated as I am in trying to get to Safeway and other stores in Pioneer Village or getting stuck in a long line behind those trying to make that left turn. The City received a million dollar grant from the state to fund most of this project and the rest of the expense comes from transportation impact fees paid by developers.
Another big issue for 2017 is that we are looking at the potential of selling the Public Safety Building to the Fire District as they need to expand. If this occurs we will need to build a police station and a place for council and court to conduct business. We are having our city planner conduct a facilities planning process to help us determine the best path for this work. We have a committee that is made up of citizens and other stakeholders to help us make the best decision. We are a growing city with an old infrastructure and need to make updates. One of the alternatives that I favor is to tear down the old city hall and build a two story building that can offer one stop service from the City.
Wishing you and yours the very best,
Joachim ‘Joe’ Pestinger,
Mayor, City of Orting. Continue Reading