Discussion opens on 2012 preliminary budget

November 3, 2011

Revenue, flat sales tax problem area for city, financial director says

With flat sales tax and projected revenue problems, the 2012 preliminary budget for the city of Newcastle calls for transferring money from the Real Estate Excise Tax fund to maintain and operate the city’s capital projects.

But some City Council members aren’t convinced that’s the best way to bridge the $180,000 gap between the city’s revenue and expenditures for 2012.

Based on the city’s revenue forecast, total revenue — about $5.7 million — will be down 4 percent from 2011.

The use of REET funds for operations and maintenance of capital projects — such as street maintenance for Coal Creek Parkway — is a new provision designated by the 2011 Washington Legislature under House Bill 1953 for cities to meet budgetary demands during the economic downturn.

The council held its first public hearing on the budget Oct. 18.

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Residents provide feedback to city’s revenue problems

November 3, 2011

Faced with a bleak financial forecast due to a still-stalled economy, elected officials are looking to Newcastle residents for feedback on how the city should maintain operations as it braces for continued revenue decreases.

About 45 residents armed with electronic voting clickers responded to the city’s real-time poll questions at its annual town hall meeting held Oct. 27 at The Golf Club at Newcastle.

The questions ranged from how the city should seek new revenue sources — such as raising property taxes or implementing a car tab fee — to how its officials can better communicate with residents online. Of those polled, 60 percent opted for direct emails for updates over Facebook, Twitter or a city-sponsored blog.

Striking decreases in the city’s revenue from 2007 to 2012 have created budgetary problems for the city, including decreases in sales tax and other development-related revenue.

In 2007, the city took in about $1 million in revenue related to development. In 2012, that number is expected to dwindle to only about $220,000 — a 78 percent decline in five years.

Sales tax collected by the city has decreased by 23 percent in the past five years, while property tax collected has increased by 11 percent. New development revenue from construction — not city imposed taxes — account for much of that increase, said City Manager Rob Wyman.

All told, the city has seen a 12 percent decrease in revenue since 2007.

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Ballots’ journey juggles security, transparency

November 3, 2011

Odyssey leads from Everett printer to voter to Renton office

King County Elections places a huge mail order each year.

Officials must secure enough ballots for more than 1 million voters spread across a county larger than Rhode Island. Then, the elections office is responsible for ensuring a secure — and hassle-free — process to distribute, authenticate and tally ballots on a strict deadline.

Matthew Chan uses a practiced flip of the wrists to levitate voter ballots from a tray onto a sorting machine at King County Elections in Renton during the August primary. By Greg Farrar

The complicated process starts on a printing press in Everett and ends in a tabulation machine in Renton. The voter is situated in the middle, black ink pen at the ready.

The job to print almost 1.1 million ballots is delegated to a commercial printer. The elections office oversees the process as Everett-based K&H Election Services prints and inserts ballots into envelopes.

The printer creates ballots for King County and jurisdictions across the United States. Then, ballots stacked on pallets await shipment to voters.

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Lake Boren flooding options considered in new study

November 3, 2011

Large drainage system could be installed by next summer, budget permitting

Preliminary efforts are under way to evaluate how flooding of Lake Boren might be regulated in the future.

Public Works Director Mark Rigos said flooding has been caused by land-use changes upstream in the China Creek Drainage Basin and by lack of maintenance on the lake’s natural stream outlet, or Boren Creek, on the south side of the lake.

The flooding could be physically alleviated by a large storm drainage system, equipped with a weir and jailhouse window, which would allow for overflow.

The weir’s width and elevation would be determined by engineering consultants Gray and Osborne Inc. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife would ultimately approve the work, Rigos said.

From the manhole, the water would be conveyed by a buried pipe or culvert system between Coal Creek Parkway and the outflow channel. It would be discharged into Boren Creek north of 84th Way.

Residents said King County used to dredge the south side of the lake and the stream channel, but that work ceased after Newcastle was incorporated in 1994, Rigos said.

The flooding has worsened over the past several years, he said.

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Transportation leaders oppose tolling initiative

November 3, 2011

Elected officials on the Eastside Transportation Partnership agreed to oppose Initiative 1125, Tim Eyman’s tolling initiative, days before ballots started to reach voters.

I-1125 calls for the Washington Legislature to approve tolls rather than the appointed state Transportation Commission. The initiative also aims to prohibit different toll rates for peak commute times and to require toll revenues to be put toward projects on the road being tolled.

On Oct. 14, Eastside Transportation Partnership members heard from Bellevue developer and I-1125 supporter Kemper Freeman and I-1125 opponents, former state Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald and Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett.

Members discussed the presentations and voted to oppose the initiative.

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I-1125 not right answer to new tolling fees

November 3, 2011

Initiative 1125 is one of those ballot measures that does so much more than put limits on what can and cannot be done with gas taxes and toll revenues. It’s one more initiative that screams, “We don’t trust our elected representatives to run the state!”

We get that sentiment, and encourage voters to hold their representatives accountable.

Tim Eyman’s I-1125 ballot measure is supposedly about reinforcing laws already on the books. It makes assumptions that the Legislature has run amok, bending rules on road tolls and taxes. It covers state bids and contracts for vessel dry-docks and goes on to specify that there will be no tollbooths. And then it slips in a little wiggle that stops light rail from expanding across Lake Washington via Interstate 90.

I-1125 limits road tolls to funding of a project — only.

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Statewide ban goes into effect for ‘bath salts’

November 3, 2011

State health officials have banned the dangerous chemicals in so-called bath salts — dangerous substances used as substitutes for cocaine and methamphetamine.

The rule goes into effect this month.

The state Board of Pharmacy banned the sale, possession and use of products called Spice, K-2, bath salts, plant food, Ivory Wave and White Lightening. The chemicals in the products mimic the effects of cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamine.

Users typically inhale the bath salts in a manner similar to snorting cocaine.

In April, the Board of Pharmacy adopted a temporary emergency ban on bath salts and later adopted a permanent ban.

The state ban gives clear authority to law enforcement agencies to prosecute people for the manufacture, distribution, sale and possession of bath salts.

Based on complaints and reports to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from poison centers, hospital emergency rooms and law enforcement agencies, the DEA also announced a yearlong, nationwide ban.

Letters to the Editor

November 3, 2011

Support Gordon Bisset on Nov. 8

For four years (2002-2005), Gordon Bisset was an outstanding Newcastle City Councilman.

And fortunately for us, he will again be a Newcastle City Councilman on Nov. 8.

I urge Newcastle’s voters to support Gordon, as he is a man who really cares about the city.

As president of Hazelwood Community Association, his leadership spearheaded a neighborhood improvement at Donegal Park with the Gene Porter Memorial Barbecue.

As a concerned citizen, he regularly attends City Council and Parks Commission meetings, adding to his vast knowledge about how the city functions.

All of Gordon’s hard work and discerning expertise are what the city needs in these tough economic times.

Diane Lewis, vice chairwoman

Newcastle Parks Commission

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Police Blotter

November 3, 2011

Burglary

About $3,650 worth of electronic items was stolen from a man’s home Sept. 22 in the 12200 block of Southeast 74th Street. The items included a Kodak camera, an iPad2 and two laptop computers.

 

Inappropriate advances

On Sept. 22, a woman working in the floral department of the Coal Creek Parkway Safeway reported a semi-regular customer asked her to go out to his car. After they talked for a while and he asked her for her phone number several times, he eventually tried to place her hand on his groin area. She called police. He was later contacted by police at his Bellevue home and said the two of them were just flirting together. The woman said she did not want to pursue prosecution because she was transferring to another store soon.

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King County Elections relies on census data to determine languages for ballots

November 3, 2011

Federal law requires elections office to offer materials in Vietnamese

King County is often celebrated as a melting pot and, reflecting a demographic shift recorded in the most recent census, ballots should soon start to include another language spoken in the community.

Under a provision in the U.S. Voting Rights Act, King County is required to create and offer election materials in Vietnamese.

The county is home to about 28,000 Vietnamese speakers — enough to trigger the federal threshold for election materials in Vietnamese. Data collected in the 2010 Census determined King County needed to add the language.

The elections office already produces instructional election information and ballot packets in English and Chinese.

The elections office could spend $50,000 to $70,000 per year to add elections materials in Vietnamese, although King County Elections spokeswoman Kim van Ekstrom said the figure is a rough estimate.

The federal government does not provide funding for the elections office to add Vietnamese election materials.

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