Granite Falls budget proposal includes capital projects

GRANITE FALLS — Officials are looking to set aside money in next year’s budget to start designing a new city center.

Budget proposals also include plans to put a ballot box in the city, continue parks improvements and replace or repair water mains, water meters and sewer manholes.

The city is planning for about $1.7 million in general fund revenue, mostly from local taxes. That money covers operational expenses such as employee salaries and the city’s $550,000 contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office for police service.

Total expenditures next year are expected to be about $2.24 million. That includes some capital projects. The city is considering pulling $500,000 from its reserves in preparation for designing and building a new civic center across the street from City Hall. Between $50,000 and $100,000 would be spent in 2017 for design work and planning, city manager Brent Kirk said. The rest would be used later.

“There’s no way we’re going to start on construction this year,” he said.

The city owns property across South Granite Avenue from City Hall. That land would be cleared to make most of the block available for a civic center. It would be near the police station and the history museum. Planning still is in the early stages.

License and utility fees controlled by the city are expected to stay the same from this year to next. A $20 vehicle licensing fee that took effect this year is set to continue in 2017 and utility rates are likely to stay the same.

“We’re trying not to raise rates this year, but we’ll probably have to look at an increase next year,” Kirk said.

The budget still is being fine-tuned, he said. A public hearing is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, and changes may be made after that meeting.

City employees and elected leaders have worked for years to rebuild Granite Falls’ budget. In 2010, the city was broke. There was $42,000 in reserve, and that was after the city borrowed $350,000 from its water fund to supplement the overdrawn general fund.

The problem was poor money management and a lack of long-term planning, Kirk said. He started working for the city about six years ago and became city manager in January, after voters chose to change the city’s form of government.

In previous years, the mayors were in charge of city operations. The city had a string of trouble. Among the problems was how city leaders managed the budget. Kirk learned that they hadn’t been using a financial forecast. When they drafted and approved budgets, they generally were doing so without looking beyond one year at a time.

There was a building boom in Granite Falls between 2004 and 2007, leading to a windfall for the city, and the budgets weren’t built with an eye for leaner years to come. Documentation was so flawed that state auditors lacked the paperwork they needed to fully review how the city was handling its finances.

“There was no accountability with the revenue during the boom,” Kirk said. “So when the revenue dried up, we were broke. We didn’t have anything in reserves to deal with it.”

The most recent state audits of the city’s finances, looking at 2012 and 2013, did not find any significant issues. The city is heading into 2017 with more than $800,000 in reserve.

Over the past few years, staff and the City Council have cut back on spending by holding staffing levels steady and contracting out for services such as law enforcement. After pulling out money for the city center planning and several smaller expenses, the reserve balance is expected to be more than $275,000 at the end of 2017.

The hearing Wednesday is open to anyone who wants to comment on or learn more about the budget. Another hearing is planned Nov. 16 and the budget is set to be adopted in early December.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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