Lynnwood City Council approves budget

LYNNWOOD — After months of sometimes bitter disagreements, the city of Lynnwood has approved a budget for 2011-12.

The budget includes layoffs of 30 employees across all departments and tax increases on residents and businesses.

“This is the end product of this journey that has been very arduous and at times very personal for members of this city,” City Council President Mark Smith said.

The city’s budgetary problems have built up after several years of deficit spending and declining sales-tax revenue. The combination of layoffs and tax hikes is expected to enable the city make up an expected shortfall of more than $22 million, and to help the city replenish its depleted reserve fund.

The layoffs were not best choice for the city’s 450 employees, a union representative told the council, but it could have been worse, he said.

“We know they weren’t the decisions you wanted to make, they were the decisions you had to make to make the city function,” said Bill Keenan, director of organizing for the state Council of County and City Employees, speaking for Lynnwood staff.

The layoffs, along with leaving vacant positions open, would save close to $10 million, city finance director Patrick Dugan said. Cuts in expenses for travel, vehicles and office supplies, for example, would save about $2 million more.

Department heads will be instructed to send lists of recommended layoffs to the city’s human resources department before the end of the year, Smith said.

The council voted to increase property taxes, utility taxes and per-employee business taxes, and to add a $20 vehicle registration fee to help balance its books.

The taxes altogether would raise $6.7 million. The proposed budget also includes $5 million in new revenue from property sales and $1.5 million in transfers, for a total of more than $13 million in new money.

The property tax would be raised 35 cents per $1,000 assessed value. This adds $95 per year in property taxes for the owners of a $270,000 home.

The utility tax would go up by 2 percentage points, from 4 percent to 6 percent.

All the taxes were previously approved by the City Council, on Nov. 29. Mayor Don Gough subsequently vetoed the increases in property tax and utility tax.

The 5-2 vote on the budget was preceded by two 5-2 votes to override the mayor’s vetoes. Councilmembers Jim Smith and Ted Hikel were the two objectors in each case. Each said they opposed the tax increases.

A couple of people who spoke at the meeting supported the mayor’s vetoes of the tax hikes.

The federal and state governments are getting the message about overspending “and it’s time local government got it, too,” said Jeff Singer of Lynnwood. “People can’t afford more taxes.”

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