Monroe puts final touches on budget

By Leslie Moriarty

Herald Writer

MONROE — Should Monroe buy a bus for the senior center?

Should the city fund a land use attorney?

Those sticky questions came up during a recent city council workshop on the 2002 city budget.

Council members and staff have been working for six weeks to create a 2002 budget. A preliminary plan calls for spending $9 million in the general fund, and includes a 1 percent increase in city taxes.

The total budget is $37.8 million, up from $37.7 million this year.

Finance director Carol Grey has prepared a contingency plan that takes into account a loss of 15 percent in sales tax revenue. Because of current economic conditions, council member Ken Berger had Grey draft a budget that reduces the amount of sales tax revenue by $350,000.

Council members told Grey they support the proposed budget and the contingency plan. But before the budget is taken to residents in a public hearing Wednesday, 21) council members have asked that staff rework a few things.

Council member Penny Sopris-Kegerreis said she wanted to see restoration of the city’s $20,000 community program request fund, which was eliminated in the contingency plan. That is money the city sets aside to spend when community groups ask for help. One pending request is money for a bus for the East Snohomish County Senior Center in Monroe.

"There’s $57,000 in this budget for training for employees in various departments," she said. "Considering that, I’m appalled that we are arguing over spending $20,000 in community funds."

Council members also told staff they wanted to fund a land-use attorney at a rate of $31,500 for nine months. It had been reduced to $21,000 in the contingency plan, to be filled for six months.

"In the long run, having that legal advice as we plan may save us money down the road by not having to go to court," council member Marc Mechling said.

Interim city administrator Thom Myers said the position will be put back in the budget for nine months.

Also included in the contingency budget is $229,155 in deferred spending, the result of department heads going back through their requests looking for items that could be delayed until halfway through the year.

At that point, Grey will determine how the city’s sales tax revenues are doing and whether the deferred spending can take place.

With those reductions, the city plans to spend about $8.7 million. The plan also calls for a 10 percent reserve to 2003.

The city expects to raise property taxes 1 percent, as allowed by the recently passed Initiative 747. The city also plans to use 3 percent of its banked property tax increase.

Grey said that cities have been allowed to raise property taxes 6 percent a year. But during the past couple of years, Monroe has only raised taxes by an average of 3 percent.

So city property tax increases will equate, Grey said, to about a $400 property tax bill for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 for city services. The 2001 bill would be $390.

City residents will also likely see an increase in utility tax rates of about 4 percent and an increase in a fire district levy of up to 8 percent.

You can call Herald Writer Leslie Moriarty at 425-339-3436

or send e-mail to moriarty@heraldnet.com.

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