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Residents can influence budget, tax break

Citizens wanting to comment on proposed changes in the city police department or a property tax exemption for downtown housing should step up to the microphone Tuesday night.

The Federal Way City Council is having public hearings on proposed changes in its 2002 budget and for a 10-year property tax exemption for apartments and condominiums to be built in the City Center.

Federal Way police could add 10 positions, a bomb van, and a K-9 officer under chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s proposed changes. It would allow her to make the final touches on department’s re-emphasis on patrols, Kirkpatrick has said.

Other changes in the proposed budget would add funding to help city workers’ salaries keep pace with inflation and cover higher gas costs for city vehicles. Operating expenditure would be up by $680,000, with $285,000 targeted for the police department and $181,077 slated to cover 3.5-percent cost-of-living raises to city staffers. The city’s 2001 projections had only figured a 2.5-percent raise for employees.

The other issue facing public hearing has some councilmembers divided — albeit politely — on policy.

After changes in state law in both 1995 and this year, cities like Federal Way are permitted to offer tax exemptions on multi-family residential housing in targeted areas.

Patrick Doherty, city deputy director for economic development, said he has seen successes under the law when he worked in Seattle.

At a recent Economic Development Committee meeting, he told members of the council and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce that the city has been investing in the downtown infrastructure for several years.

“It’s time to get some return on that investment,” he said.

If the tax exemption were passed, “Small businesses could really benefit from a greater captive market in walking distance,” he said.

But Councilman Mike Hellickson, a real estate agent, said he thinks the tax exemption is unwise.

“I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do,” Hellickson said.

He said he didn’t like the idea of giving tax breaks to rich developers for fear it could lead to increased taxes on residents to pay for city services.

“It’s all too easy for government to raise taxes or to not repeal taxes when they promised they would,” Hellickson said.

However, Doherty said adding the apartments and condominiums in the retail center could bring in more tax revenue in property and sales taxes as businesses thrived.

“By not doing it, you could actually be losing,” he said.

City Manager David Moseley also noted that only the residential property taxes are exempted, and most of that money goes outside the city anyhow. All voter-approved taxes, such as that levied by Sound Transit, remain in place, Moseley said.

Without the exemption, Doherty said, it’s possible no multi-family housing would be built downtown in the next 10 years. That would make it harder for Federal Way to meet goals set forth in its Comprehensive Plan which is in line with the state Growth Management Act.

Councilman Eric Faison, a corporate attorney, is one of the biggest supporters of the tax exemption measure. He has invited an economist to explain the benefits at the council meeting.

Hellickson said he doesn’t expect many supporters of his perspective to show up to the meeting — even if they disapprove of the tax break.

“I’m assuming,” he said, “it will be a pretty one-sided argument.”

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