Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tax increase won?t give immediate funding

Bellevue council to prioritize budget goals

Express Staff Writer

While city officials happily certified the tax-levy increase approved by voters Tuesday, May 22, Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard kept the reality of the city's financial situation in focus.

At a City Council meeting Thursday, May 24, Blanchard pointed out that while the tax hike was approved, it would be some time before the money made it into the city's coffers.

The approval, seen by city officials as largely the result of a citizens advisory committee's recommendation, will add $200,000 to Bellevue's $2.36 million budget.

The committee found deficiencies in the levels of service of the street, police and fire departments, as well as the city library, and suggested a total of $283,560 for the necessary improvements. Annual tax growth appreciation and added franchise fees were proposed to make up the remaining $83,560.

The committee's recommendation included a breakdown of exactly how much money each department would receive and specified the resulting changes.

"That's what the people voted on, that's what we need to spend the money on," Councilman Chris Koch said.

Although the tax increase will be implemented for the city's next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, residents' tax money won't arrive until January 2008.

The implication of that, Blanchard said, is that the council has to prioritize its goals for each department.

"(The departments) aren't going to get 100 percent of the money recommended by the advisory committee immediately because the money isn't there yet," he said.

Councilwoman Beth Robrahn said the city needs to be smart about budgeting for desired outcomes.

"If we want the ISO (fire insurance) rating to drop, then we ask the fire department what they need to do to make this happen," Robrahn said, giving an example of how the council could find out the exact needs of each department and then allocate funds accordingly.

Although council members made it clear the city was still burdened financially, they expressed relief at the impending additional funds.

"Usually we're sitting here saying we don't have money for anything," Councilman Shaun Mahoney said.

The council also said it would like to thank the citizens advisory committee and hopes the committee will continue its involvement in the budgetary discussions, making sure the city follows through on the recommendations.

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