Olympia City Council hosts 4 public hearings Tuesday to discuss money or lack thereof

The Olympia City Council held four public hearings Tuesday to address one crucial topic — money.

The hearings involved the 2015 operating budget, 2015-2020 Capital Facilities Plan, Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program and the 2015 Ad Valorem Tax Ordinance.

The operating budget is projected at $122.4 million and is slated for adoption Dec. 16. The public is welcome to submit written comments to the city by day’s end Friday.

City Manager Steve Hall has presented a balanced budget for 2015 with no layoffs or cuts.

The city will begin accruing a deficit starting in 2016 unless expenses are cut or the city finds ways to bring in more money, Hall said at Tuesday’s meeting. The city estimates a deficit of $3.5 million by 2019 if nothing is done to reduce costs or raise revenue.

In addition, the city reports that hundreds of thousands of dollars in programs and projects are unfunded for 2015. Key unfunded projects include park and sidewalk maintenance, a Downtown Plan for economic development and much-needed repairs to Percival Landing.

Hall said the key strategies for addressing the money problem include more regionalization of services, more efficiencies in local government services, more partnerships with local organizations, reducing employee benefit costs, pursuing state assistance through legislative changes, and lastly, developing more reliable revenue sources.

“Our revenues are growing slower than our expenses,” Hall said.

The Capital Facilities Plan is a list of projects with an outline for costs, financing and construction timelines for the years 2015-2020. The plan totals $142.5 million and includes a nearly $20 million increase in the cost of projects related to drinking water. Transportation projects represent about 47 percent of the plan.

The Six-Year Transportation Improvement Plan establishes specific funding sources for 33 construction projects in 2016-2021. Total cost of the projects is about $146 million, according to the city. Of that total, the city seeks $58.2 million in federal grants and $19.4 million in state grants, according to the city. The plan is slated for adoption by the council Dec. 9.

The Ad Valorem Tax Ordinance allows for maximum property tax collections and will provide an increase of $267,394 in levy money, according to the city.