Delaying the levy was the prudent choice


Last updated 8/6/2009 at Noon

By Gary Haakenson

Edmonds Mayor

The City Council recently voted to defer the much-discussed property-tax levy until 2010.

Since last November they have been studying ways to increase revenues for the City to continue to provide the services that our citizens have come to expect.

For many months the only way they could see to do this was to offer a property-tax levy to Edmonds voters this fall.

The Council formed a Citizens Levy Committee and, over the course of four weeks, City staff gave many presentations about how City government operates and how your tax dollars are spent.

A proposed levy was shown to the committee for their consideration.

Shortly before the levy group had their first meeting I made some significant budget cuts that were necessary if we were to survive until a possible November levy vote.

There were immediate cuts, there were furloughs accepted by City employees, and there were some suggested 2010 cuts that would be implemented if the economy continued on a downward spiral.

In mid April, while the levy committee was halfway through its efforts, Snohomish County Fire District 1 made an unsolicited contract-for-service offer to the City. It was a new yet intriguing revenue-producing and cost-saving measure that needed a closer look.

The Council authorized staff to begin negotiations.

During the next few months, Council continued down a path leading to a levy. But forces were at work that could change that plan.

The economy continued to sink deeper and deeper, jobs were being lost at a record pace, and it was looking like asking voters for more money in this environment was a questionable strategy.

On July 2, Tim Eyman turned in his latest tax-relief initiative, I-1033. It contains a cleverly worded clause, which, if passed by the voters, would basically invalidate any levy measure approved on the November ballot. And it would waste the $80,000 the City must pay to place a levy on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the contract negotiations with Fire District 1 continued at a rapid pace.

I was impressed with my first look at what was going to be presented. It was a contract that would give us some immediate cash, would still provide quality fire service, and would save us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in costs. It looked like a levy that was tax-free for Edmonds residents!

The contract will be ready for presentation to the Council in August.

I began to worry that if the Council approved of the Fire District contract, it would make the levy unnecessary in 2009-10. But the deadline to get the levy on the ballot is August 11, and so the Council had to make a difficult choice.

And it was an $80,000 gamble to put it on the ballot.

The budget cuts I made in March, along with the dollar-saving furloughs by City employees, will save us almost $800,000 in 2009, and that savings put 2010 in a much better cash-on-hand position.

Looking at the cash flow, the slumping economy, the Eyman initiative, and the possible Fire District 1 contract, the Council made the prudent decision to delay asking voters for more tax dollars until 2010.

Approval of the Fire District contract would mean the Council wont have to ask for a tax increase in 2010. And the opposite is true as well; if they are not interested in the contract, the levy will be back on the front burner next year.

Nothing stays the same; the state of City finances is a fluid one. Every day brings new opportunities.

Our job is to investigate each one without bias and with potential savings for Edmonds taxpayers in mind.


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