EVERETT — Residents and shoppers in Everett could skirt tax rate increases by the city next year, thanks to inflation and lingering economic angst.
Mayor Cassie Franklin began her annual budget address, some of which echoed her state of the city speech in March, with that message Wednesday. It was a pivot from her position last fall when she proposed the City Council consider asking voters for a levy lid increase.
Deferring building, equipment and vehicle maintenance, as well as some long-term liabilities payments, helped balance the operating budget and its $543.7 million in expenditures next year, she said. An unusual infusion of federal funds buoyed it, too.
But neither can be counted on to address the city’s expenses growing faster than its revenue. In an interview, Franklin said the main reason is a state law that caps property tax growth at 1% without voter approval. Meanwhile, labor, equipment and fuel costs grew.
“Our residents still expect a full-service city, and we haven’t made any changes to that,” Franklin told The Daily Herald.
Over her first four-year term as mayor, the city laid off staff and cut programs.
Some longtime favorites at Forest Park remain closed: the Animal Farm and Swim Center.
At the same time, the city has added positions to address public safety concerns.
“Right now, I know many of us do not feel safe,” Franklin said.
Rising violent crime spurred the county’s mayors and business leaders to form a coalition charged with making policies and recommendations related to behavioral health and public safety issues. It also will work with legislators on state laws that “hinder” the enforcement of laws such as the state Supreme Court ruling called the Blake decision, she said.
“Sometimes jail is the best short-term solution until someone can recognize the long-term help they need,” Franklin said.
Other crimes, including those to property, have grown in tandem with homelessness, she said. The city has continued its Pallet Shelter program near the Everett Gospel Mission and is planning to add a second site on city property at Glenwood Avenue and Sievers-Duecy Boulevard.
Her budget also proposes adding $100,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act money for human needs grants. The council will see it later this month, she said.
The mayor’s budget adds mental health professionals to the fire and library departments, which often interact with people who have behavioral health issues, she said.
But hiring anyone has been a challenge for the city, just like it has for other private sector employers, she said. Franklin’s budget includes higher benefits and wages to make Everett a more competitive employer. That process is already under way as the city negotiates union contracts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Everett Police Officers Association and the International Association of Firefighters.
Not every facet of the outlook was grim.
The end of public health measures meant a return of large events, including a new 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
In 2021, $150,000 in grants was given to 10 groups. Earlier this year, the Everett City Council approved $170,000 in lodging tax grants to 14 events and organizations, such as Cruzin’ Colby, Fisherman’s Village Music Festival, Jetty Island Days and the Village Theatre, among others.
Those gatherings helped the hospitality sector in Everett and yielded more lodging tax revenue for grants that support how “Everett really is beginning to come back to life,” Franklin told the council.
The city is preparing another round of Everett Forward grants for businesses to promote outdoor dining areas, storefront improvements and entertainment.
Other businesses have opened in Everett, including clean energy tech companies Helion Energy, TerraPower and Zap Energy.
The city is leveraging its $20.6 million from ARPA for other investments, including in child care and early childhood education. The Bezos Academy plans to open next year at the city-owned Everett Station with up to 60 slots, Franklin said.
Franklin’s budget proposes grants for nonprofits that make child care and early childhood education programs affordable for families with low incomes.
The City Council will review the budget and could propose changes over the coming months before approving it by December.
Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @benwatanabe.
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