Parks upkeep to be funded next year

December 2, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

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The City Council amended the 2011 preliminary budget to include $62,000 for parks maintenance, as the budget had previously called for maintenance of the city neighborhood parks to be discontinued.

The amendment was one in a string of more than a dozen approved by the council.

The council also approved a 1 percent property tax hike, although it also voted to reduce storm water fees by about $36 per household. Through the combination, those with homes worth less than about $1.5 million will see a reduction in taxes.

For the average Newcastle home — worth about $483,000 — the reduction will be about $23.

Mayor John Dulcich said the purpose of raising property taxes and cutting storm water fees was to increase revenue where it is needed in the city’s budget and cut fees in over-funded areas.

Property tax revenue must be used for day-to-day operations, and storm water fees must be used for capital projects.

The council also cut the skate park project, altered its funding for A Regional Coalition for Housing and added money for communications.

The council made budget amendments at its Nov. 16 meeting and a Nov. 23 six-hour special meeting, which it held although City Hall had been closed that day due to snow and ice. The council plans to approve the finalized budget at its Dec. 7 meeting.

“It’s a conservative budget, but it’s the one that’s right for the city,” Dulcich said. “We’re not cutting any services.”

Reinstating money for parks maintenance was the first amendment the council made, and it passed unanimously.

“This is viewed as a core city service,” said Deputy Mayor Steve Buri, who made the motion to reinstate funds for parks maintenance.

The preliminary budget City Manager Rob Wyman brought forward in October called for parks maintenance to be discontinued at all of the city’s parks except Lake Boren Park and Donegal Park, leaving all maintenance work — aside from safety inspections — to homeowners associations.

The council agreed that cutting parks maintenance would diminish the city’s image, and Buri added that reinstating the funds shifts the financial burden away from the homeowners.

Also, Councilwoman Lisa Jensen said cutting parks maintenance could have an adverse affect on property values.

The 1 percent property tax hike — which the council is entitled to take each year — will bring in about $40,000, and the slash in storm water fees will take about $108,000 out of the capital budget.

The council voted to cut the skate park project, which was to cost $166,000 and be funded in 2012. The project called for a temporary skate park to be built on Renton Academy’s property at the corner of Newcastle Way and 116th Avenue Southeast.

“I don’t think it’s a project that’s going to be realized in the near term,” Buri said. “This project is just not necessary when we’re facing such a tight budgetary situation.”

Funding for ARCH was changed to $10,000, but the funding will be contingent on receiving affordable housing funds from development in the city, specifically the Lake Boren Townhomes condominiums development to be built off 129th Avenue Southeast on the north end of Lake Boren.

Developments in the city’s downtown area are required to provide an affordable housing plan, which usually includes negotiations with the city, Director of Community Development Steve Roberge said.

The city’s comprehensive plan requires about one-third of new housing units in the city’s downtown area to be affordable for those with moderate or low incomes, and a given developer may negotiate to pay a fee rather than build the required number of affordable units.

Furthermore, the council voted to include $15,000 in the budget for communications, which will fund work on the city’s website and possibly surveys, printing costs and open houses.

Road maintenance is still to be fully funded in 2011.

Changing the police contract?

The City Council directed City Manager Rob Wyman to present information at the council’s second meeting in January about what options the city has in seeking a new contract for police services. The city now contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office, but the contract has become more expensive each year, something over which the city has little control.

After Wyman presents the council with information about possible alternatives — which may include contracting with the Bellevue or Renton police department — the council may choose to give the King County Sheriff’s Office notice that it wishes to terminate its contract.

If the city gives notice, the contract would terminate about a year and a half later.

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