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Letter: Put Extra Money into Fire Equipment Savings Fund

Joy Matsuura writes about her concerns over Mercer Island's city spending priorities.

Editor:

Voters recently passed a fire station/rescue truck levy. Despite misgivings that many have about government spending and the $5M pricetag, the majority of voters felt that supporting the fire department was important enough to endure an increase in taxes.

In (Monday night's) City Council meeting, it was pointed out that passage of the levy means that the City now has an extra $113,000. The money had been intended for repairs to the south fire station, but repairs were no longer needed as the building will soon be torn down.

What to do with the money? Council members briefly discussed options. An idea that seemed to be gaining ground was to use it (or part of it) to reconfigure parts of Mercerdale Park (maybe get rid of the skate park, etc.). An idea that seemed to have very little support was to put the money into the fire equipment savings fund (aka the Sinking Fund).

The Sinking Fund was set up a few years ago and meant to cover the purchase of equipment (like rescue trucks) and other fire-department related expenses. The rescue truck had to be added to the recent levy because there wasn't enough money in the Sinking Fund to cover it. The Sinking Fund didn't have enough money because the City felt that allocating money to other things was more important, so the Sinking Fund was funded only from interest income (which in recent years has been next to nothing).

(Monday) night the Finance Director pointed out that based on current projections, the Sinking Fund will run out of money in 2016. The City Manager assured council that this is not a cause for alarm. 2016 is a long ways away. They don't have to worry about the fund now, it will be "taken care of" later. Perhaps he assumes that home sales will pick up and that if they don't provide enough revenue that the City can just raise the utility taxes or construction permits a little higher.

The City Manager makes $165,933 plus a $6000 bonus--more money than the Governor of Washington or the Mayor of Seattle, That may be why he thinks money is so easy to come by and spends it so freely. He certainly pays his staff well. The Deputy City Manager makes $150,000 and the Director of Human Resources (who oversees two people) makes almost $140,000.

I think the people of Mercer Island would like to see their tax money treated with respect. Blowing it on low-priority items while leaving the Sinking Fund underfunded--yet again--is an insult.

The City Council has not yet decided on the best way to spend their $113,000 windfall. I recommend that voters contact the City Council and suggest that they put ALL of it into the fire equipment Sinking Fund. This way, no matter what the economy does in the next couple years, we hopefully won't have to resort to another levy to give our firefighters the support they need.

--Joy Matsura

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