News

City taxes ratcheting up

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

The city of Federal Way will be ratcheting up taxes next year following the City Council’s approval of the $196 million 2003-04 budget — $120.7 million for 2003 and $75.9 million for 2004 –– Tuesday.

The council approved raising the utility tax by 1 percent to the state maximum of 6 percent, which is expected to generate an additional $1.25 million on top of the roughly $6 million the city brings in now with the existing 5 percent utility tax.

The council also approved levying a 2.5 percent admissions tax, initially proposed for 5 percent, which will be collected in 2005. The admissions tax is expected to bring in between $250,000 and $300,000 a year.

The tax increases are expected to generate the revenue to pay for a list of projects, including new police; transportation improvements, a cops, courts and city hall facility, assumption of the Kenneth Jones pool and construction of a community and senior center.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar and Councilman Michael Hellickson were frequently the sole dissenters in the tax votes, though Councilman Mike Park joined them in voting against the whole 2003-04 budget.

Some community members have called the budget visionary, but Hellickson, who will be leaving the council by the end of the year to move his family to Lake Tapps, said the city would be wise to put off some of the projects until more prosperous times.

“Vision and leadership don’t mean tax every time you want a new project to put your name in front of,” he said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said the council should be looking forward when it plans for capital needs, despite the economic downturn.

“We can’t plan one or two years,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re providts and city hall facility, assumption of the Kenneth Jones pool and construction of a community and senior center.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar and Councilman Michael Hellickson were frequently the sole dissenters in the tax votes, though Councilman Mike Park joined them in voting against the whole 2003-04 budget.

Some community members have called the budget visionary, but Hellickson, who will be leaving the council by the end of the year to move his family to Lake Tapps, said the city would be wise to put off some of the projects until more prosperous times.

“Vision and leadership don’t mean tax every time you want a new project to put your name in front of,” he said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said the council should be looking forward when it plans for capital needs, despite the economic downturn.

“We can’t plan one or two years,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re providts and city hall facility, assumption of the Kenneth Jones pool and construction of a community and senior center.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar and Councilman Michael Hellickson were frequently the sole dissenters in the tax votes, though Councilman Mike Park joined them in voting against the whole 2003-04 budget.

Some community members have called the budget visionary, but Hellickson, who will be leaving the council by the end of the year to move his family to Lake Tapps, said the city would be wise to put off some of the projects until more prosperous times.

“Vision and leadership don’t mean tax every time you want a new project to put your name in front of,” he said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said the council should be looking forward when it plans for capital needs, despite the economic downturn.

“We can’t plan one or two years,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re providts and city hall facility, assumption of the Kenneth Jones pool and construction of a community and senior center.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar and Councilman Michael Hellickson were frequently the sole dissenters in the tax votes, though Councilman Mike Park joined them in voting against the whole 2003-04 budget.

Some community members have called the budget visionary, but Hellickson, who will be leaving the council by the end of the year to move his family to Lake Tapps, said the city would be wise to put off some of the projects until more prosperous times.

“Vision and leadership don’t mean tax every time you want a new project to put your name in front of,” he said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said the council should be looking forward when it plans for capital needs, despite the economic downturn.

“We can’t plan one or two years,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re providing far enough into the future.”

Kochmar said the tax increases wouldn’t be necessary if the city postponed some projects, like the senior and community center, initially scheduled for 2005, and a study for an interchange at South 312th Street, which she said never was discussed in any of the city’s committees.

She also said the city should wait for the Municipal Facility Advisory Committee to bring back its recommendation for siting a municipal facility before passing a budget that includes $24.5 million for it.

Other city officials have said just because the money is set aside, the city wouldn’t necessarily spend all of it.

Still, if the project came in under $24.5 million, the city wouldn’t need to add 1 percent to the utility tax to pay for a community and senior center, Kochmar said.

“I’m really sorry this public is led to believe the 1 percent utility tax (increase) is for a community and senior center,” she said. “The community and senior center is almost like a smoke screen.”

Russ Wolfe, a member of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Municipal Facility Advisory Committee, said the business community will be unhappy with the council’s decision to raise taxes.

“I guess we’ll just have to see how this plays out in the future as far as public reaction,” he said.

He said it would have been nice if the council had waited for the committee’s recommendation before budgeting for the cops, courts and city hall project.

“Putting $24.5 million in the budget is premature,” he said. “There’s no assurance they’re going to agree with MFAC’s recommendation.”

Burbidge said the 2003-04 budget is good because it provides funding for facilities and services and “frankly, it puts our city in a better position in general.”

The majority of residents who testified at the Tuesday night meeting told the council they like the idea of new services, but, right now, they’re opposed to increased taxes.

Elizabeth Allison said people can’t afford it.

She said she’s not opposed to development and the city could use a new senior and community center and pools, but “down the road, when we can afford it. We ought to build a city first,” she said. “None of us is against things, we’re just so broke.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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