Pool, golf course safe in mayor’s budget fix list
EVERETT — The city’s budget austerity measures under Mayor Ray Stephanson’s recommendations list would not close Forest Park Swim Center or modify Walter E. Hall Golf Course, but you’re going to be taxed more.
Stephanson released his budget recommendations last week to commence the city’s attempts at closing its persistent growing structural deficit hampering the city’s budget.
To largely close the budget gap, the mayor is recommending a slate of increased fees and taxes to utility services that most residents of Everett pay for monthly. His list also harmonizes fees on developers and business owners to what they pay elsewhere in Snohomish County.
The City Council will be voting to implement the slew of taxes and fee recommendations later this month.
Stephanson’s list also would prune the 1,000-plus city workforce by 15 employees to save $4 million.
Stephanson made clear the city will not pursue cuts that hinder people’s access to amenities, although his list does recommend putting the brakes on the city’s library bookmobile.
Stephanson said the city intentionally did not raise taxes and fees during the Great Recession to save the city’s residents from unnecessary financial stress.
Everett residents who passionately fought to keep the swim center open and Walter E. Hall Golf Course unchanged have seemingly succeeded as both Stephanson and many City Council members agree with not touching these services.
“Eliminating access to free and low-cost programs could easily be considered regressive, as it is our low-income families who do not have the resources to access higher cost programs available outside of the city of Everett,” Stephanson said during his recommendations. “It’s never easy for elected officials to discuss raising fees and taxes but right now it is reasonable.”
In previous public input meetings, some residents spoke out against raising taxes.
“We need to live, too.” Kris Williams, of Lowell, said at the May 8 public input meeting. “If our taxes go up, we won’t be making it.”
One resident was disappointed Stephanson’s recommendations’ focus on raising taxes on residents rather than cutting from the city.
Stephanson pressed for unions to accept having employees pay 10 percent of their health insurance plans, but this is far from reality until negotiations happen.
“It’s an illusion that the employees are paying 10 percent of their medical insurance.“ Twin Creeks resident Cletus Skrabak said last week on pay raises many city employees receive every year. “Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to pay through the back door.”
Should the council decide to move forward with the mayor’s recommendations, the council would commit to imposing new taxes on garbage and cable, a $20 car tab fee for all residents and increased utility rates.
The council is scheduled to vote on all of the tax and fee recommendations on June 18.
Utility tax increases
Under the changes, electricity, telephone, natural gas, cable television service and garbage would be taxed at 6 percent as early as the end of this year should the council pass the ordinance later this month.
The city estimates that a four-person household would see an increase of $7 per month for an average bill in 2015. With the increases, the city estimates to earn $4 million next year on these taxes alone to aid its budget deficit.
Electricity, telephone and natural gas services are currently taxed at 4.5 percent.
Garbage and cable are currently not taxed in the city of Everett. The rates on the new garbage and cable taxes would increase incrementally, from 2 percent in 2015, 4 percent in 2016 and 6 percent in 2017.
It could be a double whammy in increases for residents.
During the May 26 council meeting, Ed Rubatino of Rubatino Refuse Removal announced that the trash hauler also will be increasing their rates between 6 to 9 percent, depending on the type of service and which recycling programs are being used.
About 80 percent of nearby cities in the region have similar tax rates or higher on each of these utilities.
Several council members wanted to time the rate increases for Jan. 1 so that families would have time to budget for it. The council has the ability to implement increases 90 days after passing them, which timewise is late September.
$20 car tab fee
Creating a citywide Transportation Benefit District would allow the city to assess a $20 vehicle-licensing fee for each vehicle within Everett’s boundaries.
The city estimates that it will gain $1.2 million from the fee each year that would go toward preserving, maintaining and operating existing transportation infrastructure. The car tab fees would not go toward Everett Transit, which operates autonomously from the city budget.
The ability to create a transportation benefit district was recently granted to cities by the state so that cities could generate revenue for transportation after declines in federal and state funding.
The public hearing for this ordinance will occur on June 18. Should the ordinance pass, the earliest time that collection of a car tab fee would be possible is January 18, six months after the ordinance is signed.
Business licensing fees
The city’s business license fee has not been changed since 1978. Since then, businesses have only needed to pay one $10 fee up-front with no renewal fees for a license.
Stephanson’s proposed business license fee would require a $75 fee to receive a business license as well as an annual renewal fee adjusted to their income.
For businesses grossing $20,000 or more in receipts, the renewal fee would be $75. For businesses making less than that, it would be $25.
A $20 fee will also be implemented for each location a business owns within the city. Currently, businesses do not need to pay to get an additional license for a new location.
The city expects to make $465,000 in 2015 by restructuring business license fees.
Traffic Mitigation Fee and Small Project Impact Fee
Developers haven’t seen increases in traffic mitigation fees and small project impact fees assessed by the city since 1999.
Raising the traffic mitigation fee from $900 to $2,400 for each vehicle calculated on the peak hours of roads next to a project is proposed by the mayor.
City engineer Ryan Sass provided a graph showing that the current $900 fee is very low compared to other cities, and even raising it to $2,400 would keep Everett near the middle of fees being charged in the region and below the average.
Small project impact fees would see a similar increase, impacting projects that cost less than a threshold established by the State Environmental Policy Act.
These fees improve the capacity and mitigate development impacts on the current road systems.
Vehicle impound fees
Currently, an illegally parked vehicle may be impounded if the car has four or more outstanding parking tickets.
However, the vehicle’s owner is not required to pay the outstanding fines to get their car back. They only need to pay the impound fee.
Changing the rule would require any outstanding ticket fines to be paid before an owner can recover their vehicle. The city believes this will raise $50,000 annually.