Snohomish budget calls for higher taxes, pay

SNOHOMISH — The city is on the road to recovery from the economic recession. But that progress isn’t coming without a cost to residents.

The proposed city of Snohomish budget for 2015 calls for tax increases, higher pay for employees and additional staffing. If adopted by the City Council, it will enable Snohomish to restore services cut during the economic downturn, city manager Larry Bauman said.

A compensation study earlier this year, which compared Snohomish workers’ pay to their counterparts in similar-sized cities, revealed that many of them are underpaid.

Additionally, all city employees except Bauman, whose $140,051 salary is set by the City Council, are to receive a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment, according to the budget proposal.

Snohomish has made about $2 million in budget cuts since 2009. The reductions included eliminating positions through attrition, layoffs, increased employee contributions to medical insurance, reductions in almost every expenditure category and outsourcing police services to Snohomish County.

Though the city is still seeing lingering effects from the recession, Bauman said, it is recovering. The 2015 budget projects general fund revenue at $8.14 million, which would be an increase of more than $475,000 from 2014.

The City Council has set a public hearing for the proposed budget at 7 p.m. Nov. 18. Final budget adoption is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The 2015 budget proposes increasing stormwater rates by 7.1 percent. That’s about the amount those fees have risen annually over the past several years. Bauman said more money is needed to deal with mandates from the state Department of Ecology aimed at cleaning up Puget Sound. All Washington cities are adjusting to deal with those requirements, he said.

The city is also working to separate the storm and sanitary sewer systems, Bauman said. It plans to invest $2.7 million into that effort in 2015. Sewer rates are expected to remain the same in 2015.

If the budget is approved, water rates would rise 5 percent. That, too, is about the same amount those fees have risen annually for the past several years. The increase is necessary to cover rising costs of providing water, Bauman said.

Snohomish gets its water from the Pilchuck River near Granite Falls. It also buys water from the city of Everett. The City Council last week decided to pursue an all-Everett supply, which eventually would mean closing Snohomish’s water plant.

The council last week also approved a property tax increase of 1 percent in 2015. A homeowner’s property tax bill is determined by several agencies, including the city, the county and the state. Despite the city’s proposed increase, it anticipates its portion of the overall property tax bill will go down because a fire station bond ends in 2014.

Snohomish estimates that an average homeowner with a property value of $239,610 would pay about $247 for the city portion of the tax in 2015. That’s about $8 less than that homeowner paid in 2014, assuming their property value increased at the average citywide rate of 5 percent.

There are no sales tax increases proposed for 2015. Sales tax revenue, which is helping the city get its finances on track after the recession, is expected to rise by 1.5 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, general fund expenses are projected to increase by less than 1 percent. The difference is where the city found money for hiring, Bauman said.

The city hopes to add an engineering technician and maintenance worker in 2015. During the recession, the city lost three public works employees as well as seasonal workers.

Bauman said the city had not reviewed pay since 2003 and was having trouble attracting and retaining talented employees.

“We’ve seen a number of positions where we no longer appear to be competitive,” he said.

The pay-comparison study’s most notable difference showed Snohomish’s division leads for wastewater, stormwater, water and streets earn up to about $1,300 a month less than others in similar jobs.

“Those are the areas where we’ve had the highest turnover,” Bauman said.

The study also revealed maintenance workers were underpaid by about $300 a month, he said. Since 2012, five experienced maintenance workers have left Snohomish.

The research found just one employee, the city’s fire and building official, earning above the market rate, Bauman said.

Snohomish Finance Director Jennifer Anderson said the city is using the results as the basis for pay raises across the board. The 2015 increase over 2014 for salaries and benefits is $309,652.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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