Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Bellevue citizens urge city to increase tax levy

Special election set for May 22

Express Staff Writer

Bellevue's Citizens Advisory Committee recommended Thursday that the city increase its tax levy and use the funds to reach acceptable levels of service in public safety, public works and general administration.

After City Council members on March 29 listened to Ken Allen, committee chair, provide a detailed analysis of problems in current levels of service, they voted to hold a special election on May 22 to consider a levy increase. State law requires a vote, as the levy would increase the city's annual budget by more than 3 percent if passed.

This is the third attempt to pass a levy increase in four years. Voters rejected previous requests in 2004 and 2005.

However, the mood at City Hall was optimistic. Both the committee and the council believe that it will be possible to get the 60 percent majority required to pass the levy increase, largely due to the hard work and research done by the committee over the last two months.

"In past years, I just don't think people knew what they were voting for," Bellevue resident Vicky Walker said Thursday.

The committee identified areas of deficiency in the levels of service within law enforcement, the Fire Department, Street Department and city library. They then calculated the funding necessary to reach a satisfactory standard.

In his presentation, Allen gave an exact breakdown of where the revenue from the tax increase would be directed if the city follows the committee's recommendations:

$92,060 for Law Enforcement

· $62,200 to recruit and hire one additional police officer.

· $9,160 to increase pay of current Bellevue police officers to match adjacent communities.

· $20,700 to obtain upgraded E-911 communication and record management systems.

$48,600 for Fire Department

· $36,600 to hire full-time fire marshal.

· $2,000 to increase volunteer firefighting force pay from $10/hour to $12/hour.

· $10,000 to increase annual operations funding.

$110,400 for Street Department

· $80,400 to hire the equivalent of 1.4 full-time employees.

· $30,000 for street maintenance program.

$32,500 for City Library

· $22,500 to provide full-time librarian.

· $10,000 annually for books, computers, resource materials and operating expenses.

Out of the committee's total recommended $283,560 of funding, approximately $200,000 of that would come from the increased tax levy. The remaining $83,560 would be provided by annual tax growth appreciation and added franchise tax fees.

But what does this really mean for the average Bellevue resident in relation to their checkbook? An additional $4.85 would bring the total levy fee to $11.36 per month per $100,000 in property value.

Based on $350,000, the average property value that the committee used in its calculations, the annual levy would cost $141.96, or $58.20 more than the previous year.

Allen and the rest of the committee, none of whom had any previous in-depth knowledge of the issue, were surprised at what they found as they delved deeper into their research in preparation for their recommendation.

"Once we got into the numbers, we were flabbergasted at how under-funded Bellevue is," Allen said.

Underscoring all of this is the fact that Bellevue has the second lowest levy rate in the entire state. The committee saw this directly translating into the sub-standard levels of essential services.

"This isn't icing on the cake. This is something the city needs desperately," Allen said. "It's going directly back to the community. There isn't a raise for a single council member or city administrator."

Both the council and the committee agreed that success for this third attempt to pass the levy hinges upon the public's inclusion and education before it goes to a vote.

"The most important part of this process is that it's coming from the soul of the community," said Councilman Shaun Mahoney. "It's much more powerful."

With seven weeks remaining until the special election, the council also requested that the Citizens Advisory Committee remain intact in order to develop a marketing plan to assist with voter education and turn out.

"We need to present this to the citizens of Bellevue in a way they will understand," Allen said. "You can ask for $300,000, but it means a lot more if you can explain where it will go."

The committee will meet 6:30 tonight, April 4, in City Hall and encourages citizens to attend.

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