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Everett's budget appears balanced for next year

EVERETT — Outgoing Mayor Ray Stephanson’s final proposed budget is balanced, and his message is optimistic. 
“As I prepare to retire next month, it is incredible to reflect on how our community has grown and to take stock of what we’ve accomplished by working together,” Stephanson said in his annual budget message last week.
Some achievements: bringing a branch of Washington State University to the city, continued work on the Safe Streets Initiative, The Boeing Co. commencing with 777X assembly, and families moving into homes at the Riverfront Develop-
ment.
For 2018, the city will operate from a $136 million general fund, which pays for day-to-day expenses, and a $360 million budget overall. This budget is about $4.6 million larger than last year’s budget.
The budget includes asking the City Council for a 1 percent property tax increase and a 1 percent EMS levy tax
increase for next year. The increases add about $10 more than last year in city taxes for an average homeowner, city treasurer Susy Haugen said.
Overall, the combined rate would be $2.63 per $1,000 in assessed value, which would make the city property tax bill $92.10 for a median $350,000 home The council will take a vote at its Nov. 8 meeting this week.
Property taxes, including the increases, would collect $37.3 million for the city.
The city continues to benefit from increased development activity and new businesses, Stephanson noted. “We are currently forecasting $343.8 million in revenue for 2018; of that, $136 million supports general government.”
The city has big projects planned.
Some capital expenditures this year include the south Everett library branch expansion, almost $4 million to buy
electric buses for Everett Transit’s fleet — $3.3 million of that coming from a federal grant — a new 80-stall park and ride at Everett Station, and $125,000 for fall protection from city building roofs. 
The city will put $75,000 into its Climate Action Plan, a first step for funding it.
The budget includes nearly $3.3 million in park improvement and replacement work, with grants helping pay for it. Next year’s project list includes what Stephanson called “a significant renovation” to the Phil Johnson ballfields and improvements at the Forest Park Swim Center. 
Stephanson’s remarks acknowledge that the city’s structural deficit continues to press the budget. The deficit is from continually rising operational costs that include wage and health care increases.
The city responded to its structural deficit by combing through its departments with a fine-tooth comb. Executive director Paul Kaftanski, who oversaw the process in 2013, last month highlighted small steps for efficiency such as centralizing public records requests with software and to enforce that any contractors working in the city possess a city business license, which is small potatoes but adds up.
The Police Department continues to be understaffed. A count on Oct. 2 was 25 people understaff. A lateral police officer program, which
uses signing bonuses, is helping counteract retirements.
The city has hired 63 officers since June 2014, Stephanson said last week.
In his closing remarks, Stephanson highlighted the city’s financial state. 
“I am proud to leave behind a tradition of strong fiscal responsibility, which has allowed us to invest in the infrastructure and amenities that make our city an incredible place to work and live,” he said in his statement. “Unlike many communities, we weathered the Great
Recession without layoffs or major cuts to service. That is a testament to the foresight and discipline of our finance team, the support of the City Council and the hard work and dedication of city employees from every department.”
The public is invited to speak on the budget in the next two meetings, but it rarely does. The public comment period for the budget is at the end of the meeting.
The budget hearings will be part of the City Council meetings that start at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8 and Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 3002 Wetmore Ave. downtown.
A budget subcommittee of the council will also meet Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 5:15 p.m. at 3002 Wetmore Ave. preceding the council meeting. No public comment time is offered at that subcommittee meeting.
The City Council, by law, has until Dec. 31 to ratify a budget.
The full budget can be reviewed at www.everettwa.gov/budget. Click on “View all budgets” and then the “2018 proposed budget” to read it.

 

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