Economy’s storm clouds pose no threat to Arlington budget

By ]By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — Up a creek without a paddle? This town owns the creek, the canoe factory and the paddle plant.

At least, it may seem that way to other cities that are coming to grips with strained budgets because of the sputtering economy and Initiative 747, the latest in the stream of tax-cutting, citizen-approved initiatives.

Arlington’s spending plan for 2002 includes funds for hiring more city workers and increasing services, as well as money set aside for a new library, development of city parks and airport improvements.

And $4.8 million not being spent this year — on projects such as a new city hall and police station, main street revitalization and other infrastructure projects — is making the 2002 budget bulge.

Arlington has a total budget of $44 million next year, up from $36 million in 2001. Much of that increase, city officials say, is created by the council-approved bonds that will pay for new city facilities.

New services next year include adding two detectives to the city’s police department, the continued development of a storm-water utility and the launching of a city Web site.

Two new employees and a half-time seasonal worker will be brought on board to handle maintenance chores at the city’s parks and properties.

Three more utility workers will also be hired. The water and sewer plants will each get a new employee, and the third will run Arlington’s composting facility after it’s built.

City employees will make more money in 2002, but exact figures are still being crunched for most workers.

Union employees in the police department will receive pay increases of 3.6 percent. Non-union employees will get more, too, but how much is currently uncertain. "We are still talking about that one," said city administrator Kristin Banfield. "We’re not really sure what’s going to happen."

Likewise, the city’s firefighters will get raises in 2002. The union’s contract expires in April 2002, but workers may see an increase of between 2 percent and 4 percent next year.

So why is the city so flush with dough?

Despite a popular assumption, Banfield said that not all of the city’s strong revenue streams are attributable to the annexation of Smokey Point. Development has added homes and new businesses throughout the city.

"There is a fair amount from Smokey Point, but there’s an awful lot around the city," she said, especially near the Jensen neighborhood area and airport.

Even so, the city isn’t expecting to be flooded with funds as it was in the previous three years. Budget writers expect the retail sales tax revenue stream to flatten next year and stay at the 2000 budget level of $2.3 million.

"We’re playing it conservative. We want to be on the safe side," Banfield said.

Property taxes will increase 1 percent, sticking to the limit imposed by I-747. Arlington expects to receive $1.5 million in property taxes next year.

It won’t be an entirely smooth sailing for the city next year, though; there’s some rough water ahead.

The city will also have to replace its aging fleet of police cars. Eight patrol vehicles, which cost about $30,000 each, will be needed over the next two years.

Jail costs continue to climb, too. The city is over its jail budget by $100,000 this year, and Arlington will look beyond Snohomish County for public defender, prosecution and court and jail services in the coming years. One option may be paying Marysville to provide Arlington’s jail services, Banfield said.

In the bricks-and-mortar portion of the budget, Arlington has earmarked $13.75 million for capital projects, which include the complete reconstruction of 67th Avenue NE, pegged at about $4 million, and improvements at York Park in Smokey Point. A skateboard park is still in the budget. And the city plans to build a bio-solids composting facility, at a cost of almost

$1 million, to treat sludge from Arlington’s wastewater treatment plant.

But ambitious expectations of breaking ground for a new city hall have returned to earth, so to speak. Arlington had hoped to start turning dirt by next summer, but the $3 million project probably won’t go out to bid until December 2002.

Arlington will also set aside another $125,000 for the construction of a new library in next year’s budget, the second year the council has saved money for a new facility. The city agreed to put aside $500,000 over four years for a new library.

The city council is expected to adopt the budget on Dec. 17.

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to kelly@heraldnet.com.

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