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City Approves Taxes and Fee Increases, Cuts Projects in 2013, 2014

City Council increased the typical Mercer Island homeowner's taxes by $74.54 in 2013 and $91.51 in 2014 in taxes and fees — not including a voter-approved annual tax increase of $60.20 for the Fire Station/Truck levy.

Mercer Island City Council approved a series of tax and fee increases and capital project cuts to balance the city's biennial general fund budget for 2013 and 2014 at Nov. 19 public meeting at City Hall.

The city council approved a series of motions to approve various fees and tax increases, including: a property tax increase of 1 percent; a new uniform tax rate on water, sewer, and storm water utilities of 3.9 percent; various utility rate increases (for city and county-provided services); permit fee increases; and an increase to the city's ambulance fee.

Local resident Carv Zwingle sought to appeal to the council's sensitivity toward increasing the tax burden on residents of limited means, referring to himself and others on fixed incomes who had retired who make up a large part of the Mercer Island community.

Zwingle says the increase is due to a general fund shortfall, and asks for a sense of the vision from the council.

"I'm sure your intent is not to create a community of residents in their prime earning years," he said. "These incremental tax increases may not mean a lot to you, but they do to us," he said.

City Council also deferred spending on several capital projects, including the First Hill Drainage System Extension ($425,000 in 2013), the Island Crest Way and 85th Avenue water system improvements ($1.6 million in 2013), and the East Mercer Way Sewer Replacement ($500,000 in 2014).

The council-authorized tax increases are needed, say the city, to balance the budget. The tax increases are combined in the table below with the impacts of a voter-approved Prop. 1 Fire Station/Rescue Truck Levy on the "typical" Mercer Island homeowner.

A "typical" homeowner is defined as a family of four which owns a home with an assessed value of $700,000.

Proposed Tax Increase

2013

2014

Levy lid lift ballot measure for fire station & fire rescue truck (if it passes)

$60.20

$60.20

1% property tax increase

$9.32

$9.41

Utility tax on water, sewer & storm water utilities (3.4% in 2013 and 5.0% in 2014)

$51.00

$75.00

Total annual tax impact

$120.52

$144.61

Proposed Utility Rate Increases

Description 2012 2013 2014 Mercer Island bi-monthly bill $241.19 $255.41 $262.51 Rate increase over prior year 5.9% 5.9% 2.8% Dollar increase over prior year $13.39 $14.22 $7.10
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA November 20, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Editor Kendall put this all together at 6:00 this morning- impressive! JerryG-
Thomas Imrich November 21, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Another great report Kendall. Also, Carv's comment last night to the Council was most appropriate. But it isn't just seniors who are adversely affected by unbalanced budgets and inappropriate compounded tax rate increases. We all are. Anybody who can read an exponential curve knows that such increases are unsustainable in the long term, and serve only as a direct path to the trouble of the EU and Greece. It was only Mike Cero last night who had the courage to stand up and be counted to make the necessary hard choices for vote decisions. Further, it is hard to understand how the Council can still even be focusing on "Spray Parks", new ball field lights, and bike lanes, when we have no PSE dual power feed to our south end sub-station yet, because a past Council vetoed it, while we had people on MI last night with their power out of service. Worse, we still have virtually no governmental emergency Satcom-phones on MI yet to deal with any real disaster, which would cost a fraction of the amount proposed for "all-weather ball fields". Looks to me like the Council still has our priorities all wrong?
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA November 21, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Mike Cero does the best job for us all- by far. JerryG-
SickOfTheMIOldFarts November 21, 2012 at 07:30 AM
What exactly are the priorities that you'd like to have the council focus on Thomas Imrich? I think the anser is nothing. Ever. We sure wouldn't want to invest in our community for future generations as your parents did for you and your generation, now would we? You're posture sounds entitled and selfish.
SickOfTheMIOldFarts November 21, 2012 at 07:31 AM
Ugh. I couldn't disagree with you more Jerry Gropp.
J.Matsuura November 21, 2012 at 09:56 AM
One significant fact fr Monday's mtg was that passing the fire levy means the City now has an extra $113,000. (The money had been intended for repairs to the south fire station, but repairs aren't needed as the bldg will be torn down.) Now the Council has to decide what to do with this money. Discussion seemed to lean toward spending it on redesigning Mercerdale Park (getting rid of the skate park, etc.). There seemed to be almost no interest in putting the money into the fire dept Sinking Fund--even though the Finance Dir. pointed out that the Sinking Fund will run dry in 2016. The City had set up the fund in 2004 ( 2007?) to cover fire equip. purchases. It didn't have enough money to cover the Rescue Truck because the City fr 2008 onward opted to put tax revenue to other things and count on the fund growing only through interest income (interest rates have paid next to nothing in recent years). The fact that the majority of the voters voted FOR the levy--despite misgivings on government spending and the fact that it means higher taxes--should be telling Council that fire support is a top priority. If they understood that they'd put the full $113,000 in the Sinking Fund instead of trying to decide which low-priority item to spend it on and assuming that by 2016 they'll have lots of other money that they can put toward fire equipment. Or maybe the City figures that if the economy doesn't recover they can always raise EMS fees and utility taxes more...
Lisa Thomas November 21, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I watched the city council meeting on TV. There was a very good back/forth of budgets/priorities, etc. While others here congratulate Councilmember Cero for voting NO on many budget items, one must take that in context of the meeting and discussions going on. The easiest thing in the world is to vote NO. Especially on budgets and taxes. The hardest thing is to actually develop plans that make communities safe, improving and desirable. Unfortunately the automatic vote NO option fails on all those levels. If Councilmember Cero's opinions were echoed by the majority of the council, our city would suffer measurably. Just look at many of the things funded by those budgets Councilmember Cero opposed.
Thomas Imrich November 21, 2012 at 06:50 PM
@Lisa. Crime. Safety. Power reliability (like reversing the bad decision the Council made on the south end dual feed to the sub-station), sewer maintenance. Assured if not even improved citizen timely accessess on and off the Island on the bridges. Real Emergency Preparedness (not faux building replacement that has little or no effect on actual capability), Park and Ride availability and control to assure availability for MI citizens, not for eastside commuters, support for the schools (north end traffic solutions for our pending north end school),... the list goes on and on. Besides, who are you anyway Lisa Thomas? How do we know you're even a real voting resident, and not a PR firm, or front for a Council member?
J.Matsuura November 21, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I've been watching these budget proceedings for the past few months and the basic format is flawed. This (or any) budget is a balancing act.The City should say "this is the money that we have" and "these are the things we absolutely need--let's fund them first" and then Council can discuss less vital items and see if there's money left. Instead, the City presents spending piecemeal in the context of what was spent the year before. Even if council members mean well, w/ the big picture so obscured it's easy to get distracted and focus only on spending, instead of questioning whether it should be spent. Yes--it can be easy to say no--but it's apparently really easy to say yes if the alternative is sticky choices. E.g. no one is looking at the salaries of exec staff. The City Manager makes $166k (+a $6k bonus)--more than the Mayor of Seattle or the Governor. The Deputy CM makes $150k (just $10k less than the Mayor of Seattle--MI has GOT to be an easier city to manage than Seattle). We have an HR director overseeing a staff of 2 who makes $138k and so on. And these numbers don't include benefits. The City says low water usage is partly why they're raising water rates, even though they saved $85k because people conserved. Staff are crossing their fingers for an extra cold winter so that residents will burn more gas--giving the city more tax revenue. BTW: being frugal doesn't mean we can't have nice things. The Council funded Shakespeare/Music and lifeguards w/out breaking the bank.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA November 21, 2012 at 11:19 PM
. We just want our previous investments preserved- and built upon, not torn down. Nothing at all too hard to understand there- as Mike Cero certainly does. JerryG-
Lisa Thomas November 21, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Thomas, congrats you got me. I am a front for a council member. Yup, the council members are so unwilling to state their position (even though they do it every week on TV), they found it necessary to hide behind a citizen to voice their views. Incredible. I didn't think accusations like that were made anymore. I do feel like we're in the 1950s or something.....
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA November 22, 2012 at 01:24 AM
. JM- It will take all the said "extra" $113,000 (and probably more) to rebuild what's to be torn down. JerryG-

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