A proposed boost in funds for street and utility work and a slight increase in staff would lift Puyallup’s budget in 2014, following several years of cutbacks in Pierce County’s third-largest city.
Finance Director Cliff Craig said Puyallup would have about $16 million more for capital spending next year compared to 2013. The city also plans to add 2.2 staff positions in the municipal court — jobs that City Manager Bill McDonald says will generate revenue.
Staff is making final adjustments to the $123.2 million proposal, which is set for a final City Council vote on Tuesday. Of the total, the general fund accounts for $37.1 million — $1.5 million higher than last year. The general fund pays for police, parks and recreation programs and other day-to-day operations.
In a first reading of the preliminary budget Nov. 12, council members supported fixing aging roads and utilities, but expressed concern about a staff-recommended increase in property taxes.
“The voters today are voting down tax increases across the state,” said City Council member John Knutsen. “We aren’t the only ones taking money from people. There’s only one pocket, and that’s yours.”
Craig said the standard 1 percent tax hike, meant to keep pace with inflation, hasn’t been approved since 2007; it would generate roughly $75,000 of revenue next year.
McDonald has advised the council to raise the property tax rate, now set at $1.86 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but it won’t make or break the budget.
“It’s not going to have a huge impact,” he told The News Tribune.
Next year’s budget allows for more spending on road projects and maintenance, but McDonald said it still won’t be at desired levels. He said the city should be spending $5 million a year on roads, and the budget plans for roughly $2 million next year.
“It’s always been a priority and it’s always been underfunded,” McDonald said.
He also recommends higher rates for all utilities. He said the city has fallen behind on addressing infrastructure needs, especially the water system.
“We haven’t done repair and replacement at the level we should have,” McDonald said.
McDonald released his proposed budget in early October, and the city has held several meetings on it.
Council members cautioned during the Nov. 12 meeting that a meticulous process for raising utility rates is needed.
Councilman Tom Swanson said he opposes a blanket increase; he supports careful consideration of each utility separately.
Fellow council member John Hopkins echoed his remarks.
“Water is in terrible condition compared to the other two utilities (sewer and stormwater),” Hopkins said.
McDonald said city staff is working to address those concerns and will present several options to the full council in January. Utility rates can be adjusted at any time, and the council could amend the 2014 budget as needed.
The City Council has mostly resisted raising utility rates for several years, citing burdens on struggling taxpayers in a slowly recovering economy.
Three years ago, consultants recommended a gradual increase over a six-year period. The council considered rate hikes that year and again in 2011, but didn’t implement them.
Craig said the council approved an inflationary increase earlier this year.
Another top financial priority in Puyallup has been paying down the city’s debt, which currently amounts to about $69.1 million.
McDonald said the debt has been declining rapidly, for a total of about 31 percent over the past six years.
Mayor Rick Hansen, who finishes his final term in December, hopes the city will continue to pay down debt and prioritize road projects.
“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been able to do,” he said Wednesday. “If we continue to do what we’ve been doing, I’ll be happy.”
IF YOU GO
What: Puyallup City Council to review and vote on final 2014 budget.
When: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Council chambers at Puyallup City Hall, 333 S. Meridian.