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Tax hikes to fund pool, city hall, more police
By ERICA JAHN
Tax increases appear to be inevitable in 2003-04, but Federal Way City Council members expect to fund several items in the biennial budget, including more police officers, street work, a municipal facility and the Kenneth Jones pool.
A majority of the council on Oct. 29 approved early retirement of the Celebration Park acquisition bonds and agreed to continue the utility tax for the next two years, with 2 percent funding transportation projects, 1 percent funding parks and .5 percent funding a municipal building.
A majority of the council also agreed to add another 1 percent to the utility tax, bringing it up to the state-mandated 6 percent cap, to keep the Kenneth Jones pool open for the next two years and to generate the revenue to build a new community center and senior center facility with a swimming pool.
Assistant city manager Derek Matheson said the 1 percent of the utility tax Ñ an additional $30 a year for an average household ÑÊwill probably generate more money than is needed to pay for the pool, but city staff will just squirrel that away to issue bonds in 2005 for the community center, senior center and swimming pool.
As soon as the 2003-04 budget is formally approved by the council, the parks department could begin working on design specifications and architecture for such a facility, Matheson said.
But while some council members look favorably upon tax increases for those projects, Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, who also heads up the citys Parks, Recreation, Human Services and Public Safety Committee, expressed concern with some of the budget items.
She said it doesnt seem prudent for the city to begin work on a community center, senior center and swimming pool project until the council has a better idea of how much a new municipal facility will cost.
The proposed 2003-04 budget includes $25 million to build a new municipal facility, but the Municipal Facility Advisory Committee is still finishing up its site and funding recommendations for the council.
Committee members have been leaning away from a build-new-in-downtown philosophy, expected to be the most costly, and now appear to favor a potentially less expensive open-bid process. Their final report is expected to be released by the end of the year.
If the city doesnt end up needing all $25 million for city hall, Kochmar argued, the city wouldnt need to add 1 percent to the utility tax to generate the revenue for the pool.
This budget should be passed without an increase in the utility tax until weve reviewed what the city hall costs would be and hear the outcome of Referendum 51, she said. Im not comfortable with projects in the budget until we have more pieces.
Estimates for a community center are fuzzy, she said, but theyre being included as assumptions in the budget ÑÊand tax increases are proposed based on those assumptions.
Im not willing to raise a tax until I know what Im dealing with, she said. The point in time when you raise the utility tax is when you know what youre doing.
Deputy Mayor Dean McColgan said now is the best time to pursue capital projects because the city is one of the few in the county not faced with cutting services.
Everything considered, were adding to almost every service in the city, he said. Were doing quite a bit with this years budget. Its a good opportunity to plan for the future of the city. Its never easy to talk about raising taxes, but its an investment in our community.
Councilman Eric Faison argued projects shouldnt be postponed because of a rough economy, and added the additional taxes shouldnt present a hardship to people.
To suggest we should delay planning for the future because the economy currently is in a downturn, I just dont buy that, he said.
He said the utility tax increase will pay for more than the pool and called it an investment in our future.
I dont have the feeling were overtaxing our residents, he said, citing a report that shows Federal Way is 33rd of 37 cities in expenditures. There are a number of projects out there. I dont think an additional $30 would be spent unwisely.
In addition to raising the utility tax, the council plans to raise the stormwater rate 6.5 percent.
The citys permit fee rate will go up 14 percent, but the increase will go back into the community development department to pay for service improvements suggested by a group of stakeholders who began meeting last summer to identify problems.
For the first time in its history, the city plans to implement a 5 percent admissions tax, with half going into effect in 2005 and half in 2006. The admissions tax is added to entry fees for theater and musical performances and amusement parks, like Enchanted Village.
The money generated from the admissions tax will pay for two more school resource officers. One will be stationed at the new Todd Beamer High School, and the other will provide back-up services and fill in during illnesses and vacations.
The admissions tax revenue also will pay for two more patrol officers and will cover some of the operational costs of keeping the Kenneth Jones pool open.
If theres any money left over because things dont cost as much as expected, it will be used to fund projects that didnt make the first cut. McColgan said there is about $40 million in projects waiting on a back burner this session.
While Kochmar has some concerns with a tax increase, McColgan said hes satisfied with the way the budget looks so far.
Its a budget that has some vision, that sets us up financially for many years to come and provides facilities for future generations, he said.
We are building projects with a 30-year lifespan. They will last a generation, he said.
Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and firstname.lastname@example.org