Thursday, December 5, 2013
WALLA WALLA — The City Council passed a 2014 budget that includes a 1.8 percent increase in general fund expenses over 2013, or roughly $455,050 more in spending.
The Council voted 4-2 on Wednesday to approve the second half of the 2013-14 biennial budget. Mayor Jim Barrow and Council member Shane Laib voted against the budget because it included a 1 percent property tax increase approved by Council last month.
Council member Conrado Cavazos was absent.
Next year’s increase in spending is due to a number of factors, including a projected 2 percent salary increases for most of the city’s 234 full-time employees, higher liability insurance costs, union arbitration fees and other various expenses that also include the return of funding to the Pioneer Park Aviary.
The 2014 budget will restore funding to the aviary caretaker position at a cost of $35,180. The remaining aviary operating costs will be funded by donations raised by Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary.
One of the largest increases for 2014 will be salary.
Officials are projecting a 2 percent increase for police and firefighters, though both groups are currently working without a contract because of failed union negotiations. Arbitration is expected to take place in January at a projected cost of $120,000 to the city.
Police and firefighter union members are expected to receive a 2 percent salary increase retroactive through 2013, which will match what members of the city’s administrative and operations staff union received in 2013. That union also will receive another 2 percent increase in 2014.
Most of the city’s nonrepresented employees and department heads also received a 2 percent increase in 2013 and will receive another 2 percent in 2014.
Other notable cost increases for next year include a $75,000 increase to the city’s liability insurance, a one-time $87,000 cost to upgrade computer and other equipment to five new police vehicles and $32,500 for additional self-serve checkout kiosks at the library.
On the flip side of the $25 million general fund budget are revenues, which will slightly increase next year. Sales tax revenues, however, are expected to remain flat for 2014 with no increase or decrease. The result is the city will have to dip into its ending fund balance, which are reserves held by the city.
The 2013 ending fund balance is expected to end at $2,971,690 or 12.3 percent. Next year’s balance will be $2,764,740 or 11 percent.
The city also operates various enterprise funds, which include water, wastewater, sanitation and stormwater funding.
Water and wastewater utility rates will increase only the amount associated with the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan. That plan was approved by Council in 2010 and included five years of utility rate increases to raise money for infrastructure replacement.
The last scheduled increase will be in 2015. The average utility bill next year will increase $7 or from $119.72 per month to $126.72.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.
This story has been updated to reflect the following correction. The vote count for the budget was 4-2 and not 5-1 as originally stated.