Vancouver council previews its budget

Police, firefighter layoffs can be avoided; taxes and utility rates may rise

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The Vancouver City Council is moving forward with a 2013-14 budget that, through community collaborations, will save 13 firefighter and five police positions but will also increase property taxes and utility and garbage rates.

The city's $752.4 million two-year budget consists of an $683.6 million operating budget and an $68.8 million capital budget. The operating budget maintains funding for existing baseline programs and services. The capital budget will pay for projects to maintain current infrastructure.

The budget relies on about $400,000 in new revenue generated by a 1 percent property tax increase, which is allowed by law, and revenue generated by increasing water, surface water and sewer rates.

The budget also includes $1.3 million to extend 18 police and fire positions originally paid for by grants that expire in 2013.

Clark County Fire District 5, which contracts with the city for fire services, submitted a letter of intent to fund the 13 firefighter positions through 2014. The district board will vote to approve the funding Tuesday night.

Vancouver Public Schools extended its contract with the city for a school resource officer who splits time between Fort Vancouver and Hudson's Bay high schools, saving that position. The other four police positions will be spared by realigning the department's budget.

Those partnerships help the city "stick our finger in the hole of the cracking dam," Mayor Tim Leavitt said.

Council members agreed, thanking the school and fire districts for working with the city on a tough budget.

"There is no such thing as a city budget," Councilor Jack Burkman said. "It's a community budget."

Here's the breakdown of the tax and rate increases scheduled for 2013-14:

• Property taxes: The 1 percent property tax increase is the maximum allowed under state law. Based on last year's levy, the 1 percent increase will bring in another $409,573 in 2013.

City staff estimates the city's property tax rate in 2013 will be between $3.10 and $3.15 per $1,000 of assessed value. The 2012 levy rate is $2.989 per $1,000 assessed value. The increase is attributed to assessed values' dropping by about 3.6 percent.

• Water, sewer and surface water rates: The council had instructed the public works staff to move to a pay-as-you-go system for maintenance, as opposed to incurring debt by taking out loans or bonds. As a result, the city will increase water and surface-water rates by 5 percent in 2013 and 2014 and sewer rates by 2.5 percent each year.

• Garbage rates: The city's contract authorizes annual adjustments in Waste Connections rates based on inflation, disposal tip fees, the number of customers and fees paid to the city for solid waste-related programs.

Based on those factors, the calculated adjustment is 2 to 2.5 percent. The city will offset part of the increase with money in the city's solid waste rate stabilization fund and increase customer rates 1.5 percent.

The city council unanimously approved the first reading of the budget and its related ordinances. The council will hold public hearings on the budget at its meeting Nov. 19.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.