Olympia City Council budget revisions raise taxes, restore cuts

OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council will take final action Tuesday night on a budget that includes $4 million in cuts, 13 layoffs and the loss of 14 other positions through reorganization. The spending plan includes increases in utility taxes to help save some services and contributions to community groups.

The city’s total proposed general fund budget is $56 million. The amendments cost $842,000. They include restoring funding to a program that helps crime victims during the legal process, as well as $150,000 that had been earmarked for cuts in the police department’s operating budget. The police department had faced $705,000 in cuts – $500,000 in operating costs and $205,000 in savings from reducing the number of contracted jail beds.

Dick Machlan, the department’s administrative services manager, said there’s been no final decision on how the money will be used but the school resource officer program, slated to be cut, has been a “topic of discussion.”

During a meeting Tuesday night, the council also restored $10,000 to the Thurston County Economic Development Council, $20,000 to neighborhood services and $5,000 to operate and maintain the Amtrak station in Lacey.

Council members made a last-minute change and committed $170,000 to the Human Services Review Council, which distributes tax money given by participating local governments to social-service agencies.

The city initially had budgeted to give $50,000 to the review council and $100,000 to distribute to social-service agencies either through the review council or another process.

Councilwoman Rhenda Strub said she was heartened to learn that Lacey would make its full contribution of more than $80,000 to the review council. She said Olympia should make a similar commitment.

“I don’t want to lose that partnership and momentum that we have going now,” she said.

The council transferred the remaining $20,000 from money set aside next year to identify and work toward a goal to be identified by the City Council.

The council added $83,000 to the $100,000 initially budgeted to work toward a City Council goal. The council budgeted $250,000 to work toward a goal this year.

On a 4-3 vote, the council moved to adopt school impact fees that the Olympia School District had proposed reducing 35 percent next year. The three dissenting council members – Karen Messmer, Jeanne Roe and Strub – were nonplussed that the district was slashing the fees when there are future construction needs. They suggested the proposed fees demonstrate a lack of planning on the district’s part.

The review council contribution and school impact fees were removed from the consent calendar – routine matters that are approved with a single vote – and voted on separately by the council.

In response to court cases, the city is shifting fire-protection costs, primarily providing fire hydrants with sufficient water flow, from the water utility fund to the general fund. The estimated costs for next year are $366,450; the city will not need to change water rates to pay that amount.

The council is ending its contract with its independent police auditor for 2010. The auditor ensures that internal investigations of alleged police misconduct are complete and objective. The city budgeted $22,500 each year to pay the auditor, although the costs, billed by the hour, usually were between $6,000 and $8,000 a year. City spokeswoman Cathie Butler and the council will consider restoring the contract in 2011 as the ordinance that created the position remains on the books.

To pay for all this, the City Council has proposed increasing utility taxes for drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. It also is transferring the unspent balance of this year’s council goal money, drawing from a contingency fund, securing a grant and expecting more money from property taxes than what initially was budgeted.

The city proposes increasing the one-time hook-up fees of 0.3 percent assessed to developers for city drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. It also proposes rate increases for all customers for its drinking water, stormwater, wastewater and garbage utilities.

The city proposes a 5 percent increase in the tax for the water utility and 3 percent increases for the wastewater, stormwater and garbage utilities. It proposes changes to transportation and park impact fees.

The city proposes suspending the $1-per-capita contribution from the operating budget to pay for public art, citing the difficult economic times. The contribution would have totaled $45,000 next year.

In other news, the council:

 • Moved to change the sunset date for the downtown noise ordinance to December 2011 based on its demonstrable success. The city said the number of noise complaints have dropped dramatically. The City Council passed the ordinance in September 2008, and it would have expired at the end of this month.

 • Approved extending the deadline for some conditional land-use approvals for two more years so developers who invested in properties before the housing market collapsed don’t incur additional costs. Former Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs testified against the move, saying it only benefits developers and not the public.

The City Council recessed briefly in response to remarks by Olympia resident Jim Reeves during the public communication section of the meeting related to the killing of four Lakewood police officers.

Mayor Doug Mah had warned Reeves before his testimony to use discretion. The memorial service for the four officers, attended by an estimated 20,000 law enforcement officers, was held Tuesday in the Tacoma Dome.

Reeves offered various possible motives for Maurice Clemmons, who is suspected of shooting the officers, including “excessive state and police intrusion in his life,” false police testimony and an unjust custody ruling.

Hyer interrupted Reeves, saying he was justifying the murder. He then left the chambers, joined by other council members.

Mah quickly brought the meeting to recess and left the chambers.

Reeves, who also is known on downtown streets as Moses, frequently speaks at council meetings and regularly says the Bible predicts that Mount Rainier will erupt soon. He left the chambers after the recess was called, and the council brought the meeting to order a minute or so later. In January, a recess was called during Reeves’ testimony after he ignored a request to limit his comments to city business, according to council minutes.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427