Council votes for 1 percent increase in property tax

December 1, 2011

By Christina Lords

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Typical homeowner faces $11 increase next year

Members of the City Council have agreed to cover the city’s $61,000 shortfall between revenue and expenditures for its 2012 budget in part by taking an allowable 1 percent increase in property tax.

The move will provide the city with about $40,400 in revenue — closing that shortfall to about $21,000.

Other reductions are still on the table to balance the 2012 budget — including the elimination of the city’s parks manager position, reductions to the city’s communication funding and cuts to the city manager’s contingency money that acts as a cushion for unexpected expenses.

An ordinance to set the city’s property tax collection must come before the City Council at its Dec. 6 meeting before the action will be finalized. Final adoption of the city’s 2012 budget is also expected at that time.

“This is responsible on our part,” Councilman Sonny Putter said. “It enables us to move forward, and it seems reasonable.”

The city has worked to trim the budget over the past three years and the city must cover the cost of inflation so services and residents’ quality of life don’t deteriorate over time, Councilwoman Carol Simpson said.

Councilman Rich Crispo said while he supports taking the 1 percent increase, the city must do a better job of seeking other sources of revenue.

The city’s portion of a resident’s property tax will cost an additional $11 next year for a $516,000 home — the typical home price in Newcastle as assessed by King County.

Financial director Christine Olson said the city took the allowable 1 percent increase in property taxes last year, but reduced the city’s surface water fee to offset increases. That reduction is still in affect for the 2012 budget.

In November, the council directed city staff members to come back to the table with other alternatives to balance the budget, including proposals to cut services and/or staff and restoring $140,000 to the 2011 general reserve fund after it was mistakenly transferred to the parks fund in 2006.

Members of the public spoke out against eliminating Michael Holly’s parks manager position and canceling community events, which could create a possible $71,000 in savings for the city.

Several members of the city’s Parks Commission said the manager position should not be cut because it is too vital to the work of the commission and public parkland must be maintained at a high level.

“We have it, we need to manage it,” said Jesse Tam, Parks Commission member. “If we manage it well, we can continue to increase the value of the property within the city and also retain a quality of life we’re all very proud of.”

Under union rules in the event of a layoff, the parks manager would have the option to replace a lower seniority employee in the same union group. The person in the lower position would then be the employee laid off.

Grace Stiller, an organizer of the area’s Weed Warriors group, said she hopes to see minimal cuts made to parks-related funding because while volunteerism is an integral part of Newcastle, projects can lose focus without some level of organization and direction from the city.

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