Normandy Park residents hope their city doesn’t have to leave and annex to another city. They want to stop the current financial crisis. Some think Proposition 1 is the answer but a council member disagrees in this accompanying opinion article.
Statement against N.P. Prop. 1: Normandy Park levy lid lift is small plug in sinking financial ship
By Stacia Jenkins
Normandy Park Councilmember
SPECIAL TO THE HIGHLINE TIMES
(Editor’s Note: A statement supporting Normandy Park’s property tax levy lid lift (Proposition 1) was published in the Oct. 26 print issue. It is also online at www.highlinetimes.com.)
Last summer, the Normandy Park City Council voted 6-1 to put a property tax increase on the November ballot. Mine was the sole dissenting vote, and I appreciate the opportunity by the Highline Times to briefly present my reasons. Limited by space here, I welcome voters to contact me, as many residents have, at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Like many municipalities throughout the state, the city of Normandy Park is facing a budget crisis – current spending exceeds revenue, and the reserve fund relied upon for a balanced budget over the past five years is nearly depleted. At the projected spending and revenue rates, reserve funds will be entirely gone in three years, and the city will not be able to maintain itself as a municipality. Revenue sources the city has relied upon in the past are not coming back. We are facing a “new normal” of government funding, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity to learn to utilize the resources we have efficiently and thoughtfully.
In April of this year, the Normandy Park City Council was presented with a $1.2 million shortfall for the 2013-2014 budget, based on the city manager’s recommended minimum staffing levels.
To address the problem, the council was given a list of 39 options for potential new revenue, based on a study done in 1998, when the city’s financial peril first became apparent. Clearly outdated, many of these strategies were obsolete, some already enacted, and no combination produced $1.2 million of revenue.
Previous tax increases, through the creation of a stormwater utility in 2004 and a Parks District in 2009, have more than recovered the $1,000,000 annual income lost in 2000 due to state initiatives, but the funds are dedicated to stormwater and parks related expenses, and despite diverting those costs from the general fund, overall expenses have continued to exceed revenue.
Financially, Normandy Park is a sinking ship, but the levy increase is a tissue-paper plug in the hull. The third tax increase in eight years, this levy increase will generate only about $330,000, not even close to $1.2 million, and that amount is based on current property values.
If property values decline, so will the new revenue, while the city’s staffing needs and expenses stay the same, and even increase over time due to neglected infrastructure and increased personnel costs.
So while the property tax increase provides some breathing room in the next budget cycle, it isn’t enough to restore even minimum staffing, won’t build reserves back up to a healthy level, won’t create the surplus needed for responsible improvements, or keep our city financially solvent. Clearly, much more needs to be done, and it can’t wait another year.
We need to address the root causes, realistically look at how we staff and service a city of 6,500 people, and make the tough decisions and a strategic plan for long-term financial solvency. There are numerous examples of how other cities in our region have reduced costs in recent years, but Normandy Park is lagging far behind in implementing real solutions to a common problem.
Residents shouldn’t be fooled into thinking a yes vote will “save our city.
Another tax increase with a short-term view toward a budget balanced for the next two years will have us in the same exact position later on, as former City Councils have repeatedly done. We can do better than that, and we have to. We can create a system of fiscal governance that will guarantee security for our city, and the improvements needed to maintain Normandy Park well into the future.