Mayor presents council with balanced, diverse budget for 2014
By Craig Howard
Mayor Steve Peterson and representatives of the Liberty Lake City Council sported new lapel-pin microphones at their meeting on Tuesday night.
While the enhanced sound system may have magnified the conversation around the dais, it was Peterson's introduction of the 2014 municipal budget from the podium that stole the show.
With a priority on "staying ahead of the curve," the mayor told the governing board that the financial game plan for next year would "focus on transportation and retail sales development" while also addressing improvements at city-owned properties like Pavillion Park and the Liberty Lake Police precinct.
"In 2012, I came into office and set about to implement a plan," Peterson said. "We've listened to citizens and tried to respond."
The mayor's overview of the budget for next year began with a list of municipal highlights from 2013, including the installation of the Fallen Heroes Circuit Course at Rocky Hill Park, construction of the Harvard Road roundabout and the arrival of Vivint Inc.
"Vivint chose Liberty Lake because of the people here, because they like the community," Peterson said.
Spending priorities for 2014 will address "the issues of today," Peterson told council. Expenditures for next year will include upgrades to lighting, landscaping and drainage at Pavillion Park ($265,000) as well as the first phase of the Liberty Lake Sports Fields ($885,000). Consisting of 19 total funds, the 2014 budget tops out at nearly $10.8 million.
City Administrator Katy Allen described how the city plans to move ahead with the development of a townsquare park at the center of the city in 2014. The $655,000 project would cover two of the 6.4 acres along Meadowwood Lane and include a 39-space parking lot, amphitheater, landscaping and stormwater improvements and walking trails. Greenstone Inc., whose main office sits adjacent to the property, would cover street upgrades.
The bulk of the city's portion for the project - $450,000 - would be covered by allocations from the real estate excise tax. The Spokane Transit Authority - which operates a bus park-and-ride lot on the site - would cover $80,000 of the cost.
"We do have a plan," Allen said. "This shows you what the project would look like and how we would pay for it."
While controversy over the utility tax swirled throughout 2013, the 3 percent toll on cable, phone, gas, electric and waste management is slated to continue as a central revenue source for 2014. Funds from the tax are now dedicated to road preservation such as the kind seen on Valleyway and Mission this year. While no street capital projects are scheduled for 2014, Allen said the city would like to address renovation designs for Appleway and Liberty Lake Road next year while aiming for construction in 2015.
Next year's budget will also allot funds to driving range improvements at the Trailhead at Liberty Lake Golf Course as well as the purchase of maintenance equipment and golf carts. The city will continue to pay down the debt on the golf course in 2014 but see the debt retired on City Hall in June of next year. Through three-quarters of this year, Trailhead revenue is exceeding expenditures by $120,000.
Parks and open space will also benefit from the addition of half-a-dozen seasonal workers in 2014, bolstering the maintenance crew to 20. At Rocky Hill Park, money has been set aside for the renovation of an historic barn for equipment storage.
On the public safety side, $130,000 is earmarked in the police capital fund for a records management system and a potential replacement of the roof at the precinct building.
Along with a banner year in permit revenue - the total for 2013 is projected at $450,000 - new construction in Liberty Lake will translate to good news on the property tax front. The city added roughly $32 million in assessed valuation this year. The influx of permitting work will also mean moving a part-time building inspector to full-time status with benefits in 2014.
Council Member Cris Kaminskas raised one of the few concerns about the budget on Tuesday when she questioned the amount of $100,000 set aside for public art at the Harvard Road roundabout. Council will continue to funnel their inquiries to city staff through a program called "Mayor's Budget Questions" introduced last year. Prior to the passage of the 2013 budget, the governing board generated a total of 53 MBQs.
"Send us your questions," Peterson implored at the end of the budget overview.
Allen added that Tuesday's unveiling of financial strategies for next year sets the stage for feedback and discussion from council members.
"We have a lot of time to answer your questions and go over what's in the budget," she said.
Council is required to pass the 2014 budget by Dec. 31. A special budget meeting is scheduled for Oct. 29 at City Hall while the first public hearing on the document is set for Nov. 5. Citizens will have another chance on Nov. 19 to provide feedback on the budget.
In other city news:
• The Liberty Lake Police Department will host a symposium on domestic violence on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the LLPD precinct, 23127 E. Mission Ave. The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon and include representatives from Lutheran Community Services, the YWCA and A.R.M.S. (Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services) as well as a presentation from a Spokane County domestic violence attorney. To learn more, call 755-1140. The local 24-hour domestic violence crisis helpline can be reached at 326-2255.
• Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn provided council with an overview of Proposition 1, a property tax initiative that will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The levy would add 6.31 cents to every $1,000 of assessed property tax valuation (around $12 per year on a home valued at $200,000), generating funds to purchase land around the Fairchild Air Force Base. O'Quinn said passage of the levy would protect against potential encroachments to the base, Spokane County's largest employer. Council voted 6-0 (Council Member Josh Beckett missed the meeting with an excused absence) to endorse the proposition.
• The city approved a proclamation designating November as "Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month." The local chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Network meets on the first Monday of each month at the Liberty Lake Municipal Library.
• Allen issued a reminder that a ribbon cutting for the Harvard Road roundabout will be held Friday, Oct. 25 at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of True Legends, 1803 N. Harvard Road.