Burien lawmakers not looking at electric bills to rescue budget

By Eric Mathison

Wherever Burien lawmakers find extra revenue to address the city’s structural deficit, it apparently won’t come from higher bills for Seattle City Light customers.

City Council members are expected to approve July 21 a new 15-year franchise agreement with City Light. Picking from two rate options, a council majority informally indicated July 7 that they favor a lower rate that would leave customer bills about the same but would not create extra revenue for the city.

Under the favored lower-cost option, City Light would charge Burien customers six percent more than its charges city of Seattle customers. In turn, City Light would pay the city of Burien four percent of the revenue it generates from Burien customers. The payback is ostensibly an incentive for the city not to create its own public utility.

A higher-cost option of eight/six percent would have meant higher costs for City Light customers but more revenue for the city.

City Manager Kamuron Gurol told council members the higher rate would generate $400,000 more revenue for the city. He announced that “peer cities,” including Tukwila and Shoreline picked the higher rate.

At a June 23 briefing, Gurol reported that with limitations on current revenue sources and predicted rising costs, if the city continues with the same level of services, reserve funds will be “insufficient” beginning in 2019.

Because of a dramatic drop in city property tax values in 2012, the city is prevented from charging a property tax rate of more than $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed value. If valuation grows at 2.5 percent per year, the city will return to 2011 property tax revenues in 2018, according to Gurol. The council could then opt to raise the property tax rate by one percent.

Gurol has asked city departments to submit proposals that would cut 2.5 percent from their budget.

Noting an earlier discussion about Burien CARES, Councilmember Nancy Tosta said residents are asking for improved animal control and other additional services.

“We have to be very realistic about the budget,” Tosta said.

Added Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, “We need to pay for what we want.”

But Councilmember Gerald Robison said only City Light customers have to pay an extra fee for undergrounding of utility wires along First Avenue South.

Mayor Lucy Krakowiak noted City Light customers pay less than Puget Sound Energy customers. Both utilities serve Burien.

Krakowiak asked for a show of hands, which indicated the majority favored the lower 6/4 percent rate. However, the formal vote on the City Light agreement is July 21. Council members expect to hear plenty of public comment before they decide.

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