With the recession finally appearing to be behind us, the mayor’s 2017-2018 biennial budget, unveiled during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, looks to add more than 22 new staff members to meet rising demand and to help replace those lost due to budget cuts during the lean times.
But with money and development beginning to flow back into Renton, Mayor Denis Law and his staff said the city needed the additional staff to meet the needs of residents and potential developers, without any citywide cuts.
“The focus of the proposed budget is to stabilize and maintain core city services at a level that is expected by our residents and business and will position Renton for the future,” Law said during his budget message to the City Council.
Included in the next biennium are seven new police positions, nine positions in Public Works, three in administrative services, two in Community Services, one in economic and community development and a partial employee in Emergency Management.
According to Administrative Services Administrator Jan Hawn, the positions are “necessary to maintain services” after Renton reduced its workforce by more than 112 fulltime position between 2009 and 2014.
“These reductions cannot be sustained on a longterm basis,” Hawn told the council.
In total, personnel costs account for nearly two-thirds of the city’s budget.
Overall, Law is proposing a $476 million biennial budget with revenues projected at $461.5 million. According to Hawn, the budget will be balanced using fund balance.
In total, the expenditures come in at 2 percent lower than the current budget and expenditures are 5.3 percent below this year.
Because of that, the expected property tax rate in 2017 will be around $1.63 per $1,000 assessed value, down from $2.71 per $1,000 this year, depending on King County’s final assessment.
The lower amounts reflect the voter’s decision earlier this year to create the Renton Regional Fire Authority, removing fire service from the city books. The mayor, however, was quick to remind the council and residents that while the city’s rate is lower because it agreed to reduce the tax rate following the RFA vote, citizens will now pay the RFA directly for fire service and therefore should not expect a drop in overall taxes.
“It’s important to note that while residents and businesses will experience a reduction in property tax that goes to the city, they are not going to be paying less each year,” Law said. “The property tax will still be collected by the Regional Fire Authority, which became an independent taxing authority.”
Property taxes account for 22 percent of the city’s general fund revenue. The general fund is the largest fund in the budget and pays for the majority of city services, including police.
Included in the budget are two additional detectives for the investigations unit, which Law said will help police pursue and prosecute individuals involved in misdemeanor crimes, which he said plays a role in “creating a feeling of vulnerability throughout the community.”
“We know that a small number of thieves are responsible for a tremendous amount of crime that occurs, and we want to get them off our streets,” Law said.
Other police positions include a specialist to help recruit and hire and a second accident investigator to aid in addressing what Law called “a growing number of vehicle-related criminal cases.”
Among the other new positions in the city is money for an expert consultant for the Inclusion Program to formalize the work Benita Horn has done with the city. Prior to this budget, Horn was paid through savings in the executive budget.
Law is also proposing an additional $24,000 per year to help address the growing homeless problem, which he said was reaching an “epidemic level.”
There is also $50,000 in 2017 for the arts, part of the “quality of life” initiative.There is also money in that section for repairs and maintenance at Gene Coulon Park , an expansion of the Ron Regis athletic fields, improvements at the Senior Activity Center, new downtown way-finding signs and more, including landscaping and possible redevelopment at Piazza Park.
Other capital improvements include work on Rainier Avenue North, reconstruction and conversion of Main Street to a two-way and improvements to Duvall Avenue Northeast.
Law concluded his address by saying that while there are challenges ahead – such as the loss of annexation sales tax revenue in 2018 – there are also great opportunities for the city, which he said was financially strong thanks to the work they have done over the past several years to weather the recession and encourage what he noted was $2.2 billion of private investment currently being make in Renton.
“We turned 115 years old this past July,” Law said, “and the city has never been better than it is today.”