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White Salmon Approves ‘Austere’ 2014 Budget

City of White Salmon residents can expect to see a number of infrastructure projects next year as part of the city’s 2014 budget expenditures.

The capital construction program for 2014 – made up mostly of rollover projects from 2013 that the city was unable to complete for one reason or another — calls for replacement of water line on North Main Avenue and Simmons Road – a project the city initially hoped to undertake in 2013 but had to delay because Klickitat County postponed its planned reconstruction of the roadway to 2014. The by-contract project will cost an estimated $550,000. The city is financing the work with a low-interest loan from the state Public Works Trust Fund.

Also in the works is a major reconstruction of NE Tohomish Street. The city intends to replace water and sewer lines, install a storm water collection system, add lighting, and resurface the street. A section of Snohomish Avenue, between Tohomish and Washington Street, also will be improved. Resurfacing of the pavement and construction of sidewalk on the east side of Snohomish are the primary objectives. Cost of the by-contract project is about $921,087, most of which is coming from the state Transportation Improvement Board in the form of a grant.

Patrick Munyan Jr., White Salmon’s city administrator and public works director, said this project was originally planned for 2013 and may or may not be constructed in 2014.

“This project is pending depending on funding for the water construction portion of the project,” Munyan noted. “The water portion was approved for funding by the [state] Public Works Trust Fund Board, but the State Legislature [earlier this year] pulled Public Works Trust Fund money to comply with a Supreme Court order to fund education 100 percent per the state Constitution.”

Now, the city is applying to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funding. “If that funding is approved, we will proceed with the project,” Munyan said.

White Salmon’s total public works capital budget for 2014 is $1,886,586. By department, the numbers are: Streets, $538,576; Water Department, $832,691; and Wastewater Department, $515,319.

Citizens also can expect to see a different garbage collection service handling their disposable waste sometime in the coming year. The City Council voted 4-0 on Dec. 4 to phase out the city-run Refuse Department and to ask the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to assign a private garbage collection service to pick up and dispose of White Salmon’s residential and commercial solid waste. In addition, the council rescinded a request for proposals to full-service refuse companies it started advertising in November. The likely outcome of the process is that the WUTC will assign the White Salmon coverage area to Republic Services, formerly Allied Waste Services of Klickitat County.

City staff presented recommendations to the council during its Dec. 4 business meeting. According Munyan, a decision to give up the city’s waste hauler certificate would be the cleanest break and would create the easiest paper trail for state auditors to follow. Moreover, the WUTC would become responsible for oversight of the collection service, and the city could continue to collect a 6 percent utility tax from the new waste hauler.

White Salmon has run its own garbage collection utility since 1952. The city established the utility by ordinance on Dec. 5, 1951. The Refuse Department, however, has been losing money in recent years despite internal controls established by city administrators to stem the bleeding. In the final issue, administrative staff recommended that the City Council pursue other options to keep collection and disposal costs down for citizens.

Water and sewer rate increases for both in-city and out-of-city customers also are in store in 2014. The council held a public hearing on the proposed rates on Nov. 20. Only one person offered testimony. The council subsequently adopted the new water and sewer rates on Dec. 4. (Customers with questions about the rates should contact City Hall for more information.)

A 1 percent increase in the city’s property tax levy for 2014 gained council approval on Nov. 20. The city expects to collect $367,663 next year. Property tax revenue for this year was budgeted at $291,443. Most of this money collected in 2013 ($290,734) will go directly into the city’s General Fund, sometimes called Current Expense. The 1 percent increase is the statutory limit without voter approval, and most local governments take it to help them keep up with rising costs.

The remainder of the property tax revenue collected next year ($76,929) will be split between the Street Fund ($18,557) and the Pool Fund ($58,372). Next year, the city swimming pool will operate with a budget of $89,550, that’s 10 percent higher than it was in 2013.

The General Fund covers everything from administration to fire and police protection, to land use planning, to prosecuting criminals, to plowing snow. Noted City Clerk/Treasurer Leana Johnson, “From my perspective, the city is working to complete the basic functions as efficiently as possible.”

The Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, again, will get most of the General Fund’s resources ($708,467 out of $1.86 million) primarily because it has the most employees (five) of any General Fund-supported department. The department also is authorized to spend $3,000 for laptop computers so officers will have faster access to data while they are out in the field.

“While the city is moving forward with trying to improve service, we were unable to set aside any additional funds for a vehicle replacement for the Police Department — $20,000 to $40,000 for a new vehicle in 2014 as initially requested – or the Fire Department, which requested $20,000,” Johnson said.

Moreover, the city could not find the funds that would have allowed it to hire another commissioned police officer to fill the position left vacant by the retirement of Officer Jim Andring in 2013.

“As the year goes on, we will reassess to see if the budget position is improving and hopefully be able to fit in hiring another officer,” Johnson said.

The White Salmon Volunteer Fire Department’s budget increased by 3.7 percent – from $106,556 to $110,550. Revenues for the department include $15,000 from Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 for services provided under a mutual aid agreement between the fire agencies. Planned capital expenditures include the acquisition of a Jaws of Life system at a cost of $20,000.

Councilor George Rau, a member of the Finance Committee, said the city’s 2014 spending plan “is a very austere budget and is predicated on an interfund loan [of $30,000 from the General Government Reserve Fund to the Street Fund] with a payback plan.” He added, “We’ve been down for a few years and just now are starting to climb our way out.”

Johnson said she will be monitoring the budget as the year progresses to see if the loan will be necessary. “The revenues may come in higher than expected, or expenses may be lower,” she noted. “If the loan is still necessary to balance the budget, then a resolution with a repayment plan will be presented to council for their approval.”

The Water Department is working with a consultant to prove the feasibility of the city’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery project, which is funded by a state Department of Ecology grant. Also included in the department’s budget are costs and revenues for the North Main/Simmons Road and Tohomish Street projects.

The Wastewater Department budget also includes funding for the Tohomish project, as well as a $400,000 expenditure for replacement of the Waubish Street lift station. The project is contingent on the city obtaining a loan.

Planned capital expenditures for the Public Works crew include laptop computers and additional mapping software for field work.

All told, the City Council authorized the spending of more than $7.1 million in 2014, though some of the expenditures involve only the transfer of money into various reserve funds. The total budget of more than $9.1 million includes nearly $2 million in 2013 ending cash that will be carried over into the next year.

In addition to all of the above, the city will be implementing paperless billing in the next couple of months to help keep billing and postage costs down. Paperless billing will allow customers to pay with a credit card, free from transaction fees, which will be absorbed by the city.

“We are continuing to look for ways to improve the city, and the council will set a date at the next council meeting [on Dec. 18] for a retreat in January to discuss future goals,” Johnson said.

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