Friday, June 5, 2009

Bellevue follows the money

Tax levy override cash used to fill holes

Express Staff Writer

The city of Bellevue was unable to keep some of the promises it made in 2007 before residents voted to pass a tax levy override to increase the level of city services.

Not much can be done about it now.

Several residents have cried foul at the city's decision to not spend the money in places the tax levy citizen's advisory committee said it would be spent.

Due to the economic downturn, the money was instead used to balance a city budget that saw a 10 percent unexpected reduction in state and county revenue streams.

Librarian Patty Gilman and Fire Chief Greg Beaver have both expressed frustration with the council for not living up to promises it made before the tax levy override went to a vote.

"Where did the money go?" Beaver asked in an interview this week.

"The city has many obligations," City Administrator Tom Blanchard said when he was posed the question. "It is a constitutional requirement that we balance the city budget. This is a bigger obligation than meeting the expectation from the tax levy override that we improve the condition of the city departments."

A citizen's advisory committee formed by the mayor and City Council in 2007 worked for three months to assess the level of services in the city. It reported that $200,000 raised by the permanent, annual tax increase should fund the library, street, police, and fire departments.

Voters passed the override by a 185-90 vote, with 28 percent of registered voters turning out. But when the recession took hold the following year, the city was scrambling to make ends meet.

In 2009, only a small portion of the designated tax money made it out of the general fund and to the four departments. The Fire Department never received $30,000 earmarked from the levy override for emergency equipment.

"We eliminated capital line items, but we kept our trained staff," Blanchard said. "This decision was made to protect our core services. The council has full authority to set the budget and set priorities. I think they responded very appropriately."

As the city enters budget discussions this summer, perhaps things could change.

"We'll see if I ever get that capital back," Beaver said.

Tony Evans:

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