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Mayor presents council with balanced, diverse budget for 2014
10/30/2013 2:24:33 PM

Editor's note: The Liberty Lake City Council met Oct. 29 (after the press deadline for this month's Splash) for a special budget meeting. Read about it here

By Craig Howard
Splash Contributor

Mayor Steve Peterson and representatives of the Liberty Lake City Council sported new lapel-pin microphones at their meeting on Oct. 15. 

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 the 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 at the Oct. 15 meeting 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 the 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 was held 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.

Sports field project re-bid
Meanwhile, the starting date for the first phase of the Liberty Lake Sports Fields landed just outside the foul line last month.

At the Oct. 1 City Council meeting, City Administrator Katy Allen told the governing board that construction of the much-anticipated site would need to be re-bid due to a protest by one of three companies vying for the project. 

"The third lowest bidder has protested the bid and in reviewing the RCW (state law), if the protest is legitimate, we cannot award the bid," Allen said. 

Allen explained that the snag occurred when a separate line item for excavation work was left out of the original bid. While AM Landshaper Inc. came in with the lowest bid at a sum within the city's budget, the entire process would reconvene at the starting line later in October. 

Welch Comer Engineers, the Coeur d'Alene firm involved in the design of the project, will absorb the rebidding cost. Meanwhile, awarding of the design and construction of the second phase of the Sports Fields to Welch Comer was also tabled for consideration at a later date. 

In June, council voted to move ahead with development of the western portion of a 20-acre lot purchased from the Central Valley School District last year. The plan calls for a pair of baseball diamonds, a picnic shelter, concrete walking paths and 79 parking spaces with a total price tag of $800,000. At the same meeting, council checked off on Welch Comer to design the first phase of the work at a cost of $44,000. 

On Oct. 1, Allen said numbers are still being crunched on the second phase of the project - to include flexible sports fields - with a goal of including cost estimates in the 2014 budget process. Council has identified the development of the eastern plot as one of three municipal priorities for next year. The second phase hinges on plans Central Valley School District has for a potential school on the site.

While Allen shed light on the status of future sports fields, another topic on the city administrator's agenda required some illumination of the solar variety. 

Since mid-August, the city has been talking with a company called Western Renewable Energy about a project that would add solar panels to the building that houses the Liberty Lake Municipal Library and the Liberty Lake Police Department.  Allen told council on Oct. 1 that a feasibility study and design work would cost the city $4,000, followed by another $11,000 if the project moved forward. 

All of the expenditures on the city's side would eventually be reimbursed following installation of the panels. The overall cost of the project has been estimated at $750,000.

Investors in renewable energy projects involving public buildings like a library, City Hall or police station are able to earn tax credits while the municipal entity realizes significant savings in utility charges. Allen said the police/library project "could take the building off the grid." 

Allen noted that Western Renewable Energy had recently completed installation of solar panels on the campus of Whitworth University and cities like Spokane and Spokane Valley are currently looking into similar projects. 

In addition to a scenario that "would mean no power bill at the end of the day," according to Allen, the Liberty Lake Library Foundation, a certified 501c3 organization, would benefit from the arrangement by collecting funds from investors in the project, loaning it back to them and collecting the interest. 

"This is a $750,000 project and you're getting it for free," said Pat Dockrey, a member of the library foundation board who spoke in support of the installation at the Oct. 1 meeting. "I think it's worth spending the $4,000."

Reservations were expressed by some council members hesitant about the city potentially being stuck with a $4,000 bill if the work did not transpire. 

"Maybe they (Western) should pay the $4,000, and we can reimburse them," Council Member Keith Kopelson said.  

Kopelson - who was joined by fellow council members Cris Kaminskas and Josh Beckett in expressing concern about the delay in council being informed about the project as well as the upfront cost - also questioned Allen about whether or not the city had negotiated the price for the feasibility study and design. Allen acknowledged that Western had first discussed a cost of $6,250.

Last year, City Council members agreed to grant Mayor Steve Peterson authority to approve any expenditure of $5,000 or less without a council vote. 

"We feel we've done our due diligence on this," Allen said. "We wanted to have our ducks in a row before we came to council." 

With no council approval required for the $4,000 expenditure, the governing board backed off from its opposition. Allen said she would provide council members with a letter and an analysis report from Western the following day. 

"At the end of the day, there is no specific ask of the council," Beckett said. "Let's just keep our fingers crossed that this doesn't fall through."

Council Member Shane Brickner thanked Allen, the mayor and staff for bringing forward the issue even when Peterson could have signed off on the expense without discussion.

"This shows the transparency we're trying to move forward with," Brickner said. 

A look back and ahead at business conducted by the Liberty Lake City Council

By Craig Howard
Splash Contributor

Council heard a report from Kevin Wallace, executive director of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, on the agency's 20-year transportation plan known as "Horizon 2040." Wallace said the document would address the diverse transportation needs of the community while placing a priority on economic vitality and job growth. Public comment on the plan began Oct. 18, with the SRTC board expected to grant its approval by Dec. 12. Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson is currently serving as chair of the board. 

Bob Wiese and fellow members of the Fallen Heroes Circuit Course committee gave a report of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the first installment in Rocky Hill Park on Sept. 21, thanking the mayor, council and city staff for their support of the project. The course will eventually consist of five installments honoring each branch of the military with the next feature planned for Pavillion Park. 

Council unanimously approved the second reading of Ordinance No. 207, amending the city development code and the River District Specific Area Plan Overlay. The list of 14 amendments had been recommended by the Planning Commission. 

Bob Schneidmiller, president of Friends of Pavillion Park, announced the ticket price for the FOPP Holiday Ball in December will be reduced from $100 to $75. The event serves as the organization's main fundraiser for the park's summer concert series. Schneidmiller also said that FOPP has begun seeking sponsorship support from local businesses for specific events during the summer. Schneidmiller called 2013 at the park, "the best year ever." 

Council unanimously approved an interfund loan for the Harvard Road Mitigation Fund. Finance Director R.J. Stevenson said the loan will be utilized for two objectives - to fund the Harvard Road roundabout project and as a match for the Local Infrastructure Financing Tool.

Council unanimously approved the second reading of Ordinance No. 208, establishing Aquifer Protection Fund 411. The fund will include the city's portion of revenue from a $15 fee per household earmarked for protection of the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. 

City Administrator Katy Allen passed along the recommendation of the city's salary commission regarding compensation for elected officials. The pay for mayor has been advised to increase from $750 to $1,250 per month, with council salaries going from $250 to $400 per month. There is a 30-day window for public feedback on the recommendations, expected to be included as part of the 2014 budget. The salary commission will provide a detailed report at the Nov. 5 council meeting. 

Council Member Shane Brickner applauded city staff at the Oct. 1 council meeting and, in particular, Planning and Building Services Manager Amanda Tainio, for quick reaction to a business that was going door-to-door throughout the city on Sept. 27. The company had not received permission from the city and was told to refrain from further canvassing. 

A full report from the salary commission regarding the recommendation of pay raises for the mayor and City Council.

A presentation from the Liberty Lake Rotary Club. 

Public hearings on the 2014 budget (Nov. 5 and 19 City Council meetings). 

A possible second read ordinance for a budget amendment regarding the Liberty Lake Ball Fields.

Based on budget discussions, the possible awarding of a contract for public art at the Harvard Road roundabout. 

A resolution levying property taxes.