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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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Steady sales tax revenue bodes well for Battle Ground’s 2024 budget

City isn’t planning any reductions in staffing, programs

By , Columbian staff writer
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As Battle Ground has continued to grow — it’s now home to 22,000 people — so, too, has the city’s budget.

Despite rising costs, Battle Ground officials have managed to hold expenses in check. That’s one big takeaway from the city’s 2024 budget, which the city council is expected to approve during its Dec. 18 regular meeting.

“Our revenue projections are actually very positive. We’re continuing to see sales tax remain steady for the city of Battle Ground,” Finance Director Meagan Lowery said Monday.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales tax revenue in most jurisdictions rose significantly as more people shopped online from home. But those increases have begun falling off.

Lowery said being the north county hub for retail shopping has helped ensure Battle Ground’s sales tax revenue continues to grow. The city expects it to increase by about 3 percent next year. The city is home to larger chain stores, such as Walmart, Fred Meyer and Safeway, as well as hundreds of smaller, independent stores.

Specific types of new construction also remain strong. As mortgage rates began to rise, Lowery said new construction starts for single-family homes decreased. However, multifamily housing and commercial construction projects are still moving forward.

“Our interest revenue has offset that,” Lowery said, referring to single-family homebuilding. “We haven’t seen a negative effect.”

Total revenue for the city in 2024 is projected to be $76.8 million, with the largest portion — 35 percent — coming from the general fund. Included in the forecast are fund revenues such as nearly $12 million from sewer, $11 million from water and $9.5 million from capital projects funds.

Lowery also said the city council voted 6-1 to take the 1 percent property tax increase allowed by state law, increasing the levy budget to $4.12 million from the 2023 base of $4.08 million.

What Battle Ground residents won’t see in next year’s budget is cuts to programs or staffing.

“We budget very conservatively so we did not ramp our services up when we saw those increases in revenue. … We spend to our means,” Lowery said.

Driving through town was difficult at times over the summer as road projects along Main Street and state Highway 502 were completed. Residents can expect to see more infrastructure projects moving forward next year. Some projects will be in the planning and design phase; others will begin construction.

Among the capital improvement projects slated for 2024 are the reconstruction of Southeast Grace Avenue and new sidewalks along Southwest 20th Avenue, as well as the Tukes Mountain reservoir replacement, water well improvements and a new sewer pump station, among others.

Many of the city’s infrastructure projects are funded through state and federal grants in combination with local matching funds. As prices have gone up, including costs for its own construction projects, Lowery said the city has had to make adjustments.

“There have been some projects that, because of the increase in construction, we’ve had to go back to the state or back to the feds to close that gap in order to get those construction projects moving forward,” Lowery said.

She said the city has been very prudent in its spending and had sufficient reserves to make up for some of the cost differences.

“The city, as a whole, has not had to cut back anything to offset those rising costs because the city has been very strategic in how we have ramped things up and expanded services,” Lowery said.

City officials want to give one department room to expand: the police department. The city has been actively recruiting new police officers, an effort that has finally paid off.

“The intention for next year is to remain status quo. We are almost fully staffed in our police department, which hasn’t happened for a long time,” Lowery said. “Finding police officers and retaining police officers is a struggle I think every jurisdiction has.”

The new public safety sales tax, which began being collected in January, will help offset some of the police department expenses. Lowery said the city expects to receive about $300,000 annually from the tax program.

Once approved by the city council, the full budget will be available at https://www.cityofbg.org/164/Budget.

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