A preliminary version of Puyallup’s 2013 city budget is based on conservative revenue projections. It includes a net reduction of 10.5 positions from a staff of about 300, largely through attrition. It also includes the standard 1 percent annual property tax bump.
What the spending plan for Pierce County’s third-largest city doesn’t include is an increase in water, sewer or stormwater rates – even though the executive who runs the city on a day-to-day basis thinks those rates should go up.
Interim City Manager Bill McDonald said he’ll bring up the idea as part of budget discussions in the coming weeks.
Puyallup hasn’t raised utility rates in about three years, and they “should at least go up with inflation,” covering both operating and capital costs, McDonald said in an interview. “(With the existing rates), we’re not there.”
For the last two years, the City Council has resisted raising utility rates, with some members citing the poor economy and already-hefty tax burdens in the city of 37,000 people.
Deputy Mayor John Knutsen said last week that he hasn’t changed his mind as city leaders plan for 2013.
“People are taking too much of a beating,” he said.
McDonald recently released his preliminary 2013 budget, and the City Council will go through it section by section. Council members started the process Tuesday night. They didn’t spend much time talking about utility rates, but two more sessions are scheduled Oct. 23 and 30.
McDonald didn’t use a utility rate hike to balance the budget in his plan, but he still advises that the rates go up 2.8 percent, tied to the inflation rate. He also recommends the council consider other revenue increases, including fees for recreation programs.
“A good policy is for all rates to be indexed to inflation whenever possible,” the preliminary budget says.
Consultants in 2010 recommended a stair-step increase over six years to help cover the cost of repairing and replacing aging utility infrastructure. The council considered rate hikes that year and again in 2011, but ultimately decided not to.
Mayor Rick Hansen said Tuesday that he expects a robust discussion when the council takes up the topic in coming weeks.
Puyallup isn’t the only city mulling higher utility rates.
Water, power, cable, surface-water and wastewater rates might go up in Tacoma. And in Sumner, the City Council is considering increasing water, sewer and stormwater rates.
Puyallup’s total preliminary budget for 2013 is about $94 million, including a $35.5 million general fund that pays for day-to-day government operations. That’s a drop from the $37 million general fund budget for 2012.
McDonald’s spending plan avoids dipping into the city’s roughly $2.6 million general fund reserves to cover operations.
His proposed staff position cuts range from a senior assistant city attorney to an assistant building official. His budget also leaves three positions unfunded – a patrol officer and two slots in public works.
The council must adopt a 2013 budget by the end of this year.