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Budget discussion begins
9/19/2012 8:58:18 AM

By Josh Johnson
Splash Staff Writer

With initial forecasts showing Liberty Lake in a "pretty good place" financially as the city gears up for its 2013 budget season, city leaders offered initial glimpses of the discussions to come at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Finance Director RJ Stevenson presented a preliminary budget for 2013 based on staff projections of expenditures and revenue. The draft shows general fund revenue - essentially the city's operating budget - of $5.43 million against $5.14 million in expenses. Anticipating some upcoming capital projects in 2013, including emptying out the $608,100 from the long-dormant Harvard Road Mitigation Fund to spend on a proposed roundabout at Harvard Road and Mission Avenue, the city is looking at spending roughly $7.47 million against $6.96 million in revenue. 

Budget discussions will more formally launch when Mayor Steve Peterson presents his proposed budget on Oct. 16, but Council members shared some initial feedback that may shed light on future discussion, including topics such as the utility tax and spending philosophies. 

"It appears that next year is when we start spending more than what we collect," Council Member Josh Beckett said of the declining overall ending fund balance. 

City Administrator Katy Allen pointed to the city's relative financial health as compared to many other municipalities in the state as one reason the city may be in a position to spend down some accrued capital fund balances on upcoming projects. 

"We still want to be very conservative in our revenue projections, we still want to be very disciplined in our expenditures, but this is a pretty good budget, and I think we should all just acknowledge that we're in a pretty good place here in Liberty Lake," Allen said. 

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Council Member Cris Kaminskas responded by reminding the city about the utility tax implemented during a budget crunch in 2011 at a full 6 percent rate, then reduced to 3 percent for 2012.

"If we are in a ‘pretty good place,' have we looked at taking away the utility tax to keep spending down?" she said. "... Instead of increasing our spending, shouldn't we be looking at keeping our spending even and maybe possibly giving some of that back to our citizens?"

Stevenson called it "a great discussion we're going to have in this budget process." He said the utility tax was passed with a dual purpose, both getting through tough times and responding to infrastructure needs.

Library, speed measures pass
The City Council unanimously passed Ordinance No. 202, which increases the speed limit to 45 mph on Country Vista Drive from Henry Road west to the city limits of Spokane Valley. 

Included in the city's consent agenda, also passed unanimously, was a reciprocal agreement to allow city residents to get library cards from the Spokane County Library District. The SCLD board was also expected to pass the agreement Tuesday. An appointment of Ashley Salzwedel to the Planning Commission was also approved.