December 27, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 36

Deja vu: Medical Lake lives within its means

By JAMES EIK

Staff Reporter

With another year’s budget placed in the books, Medical Lake can rest easy for a while.

As has been the case for a number of years, the city has put together a balanced budget with revenues remaining, for the large part, somewhat stagnant.

Next year’s general fund expenditures come in at $2,903,148, a drop of over $100,000 from this year’s $3.071 million budget. Revenues from the state have decreased, and contracts for work performed in the city, like road maintenance and utility work, aren’t becoming any more affordable as the cost for materials continues to rise. As a result, the city finds itself once again in a difficult budgeting scenario, with flat revenues and increasing costs.

Creating the operating budget means numbers go under tight scrutiny, with each line receiving a bit of attention.

“We reduce our expenses where we can,” City Administrator Doug Ross said. “But, you can only cut so much before you cut services. I don’t even know what we would cut.”

Medical Lake ended the year in traditional style, holding off on any purchases that weren’t needed. At the last City Council meeting, finance director Jennifer Hough said the general fund was higher than expected, but Mayor John Higgins said the spending freeze would likely continue into the early months of 2013.

The city isn’t alone with its budget difficulties, Ross said. Medical Lake, however, has become acclimated to the pressure that comes around this time of year, and weathers the storm better than some similar cities.

“You see people across the state using those reserve funds,” he said. “All we can do is watch our spending and keep up with those expenses.”

The city’s priorities, when it comes to the budget, remain the same: police, fire and parks, as well as the legally-obligated building laws and codes. The natural beauty surrounding Medical Lake attracts several special events throughout the year, including triathlons and the Blue Waters Bluegrass festival. Medical Lake also offers a wide array of sports and classes throughout the year through its parks and recreation department.

“Parks and recreation are a great strength we have here,” Ross said.

Among the revenues lost from the state were among the largest hits to Medical Lake this year, especially with liquor revenues traditionally received in the past.

Last year, the city received a combined $55,000 from liquor-related revenues, comprised of $24,600 from the liquor excise tax and $30,400 from liquor board profits. In 2013, Medical Lake is estimating to receive $21,452 from the state, a drop of $33,548. It budgeted $1,575 in liquor excise tax revenues and $19,877 in profits from the liquor board next year.

The revenue loss affected an already tight year for the city. Any loss of revenue, Ross said, takes a toll.

“You have to cut a service somewhere to compensate it,” he said.

While the passage of I-502 in November will mean an increase in revenue, it likely won’t be for Washington cities. Business license revenues, Ross said, will go to the state, while sales tax on the product won’t really trickle down properly to the cities.

Even though budgets in recent years have been difficult, Medical Lake has made some strong advances to become more efficient. Earlier this year, the city upgraded its budgeting software, which will save a small amount of money but also increase its ease of access, since it’s a Windows product.

The lake also saw the installation of a third solar powered aerator, built into this year’s budget. Ross said the original plan was to place five of them in the lake, however recent tests show the water is healthier than ever.

“The lake is doing great with three of them,” he said.

More good news came toward the end of this year for the city’s streets. SR 902 will receive chip sealing through Medical Lake, with the Transportation Improvement Board authorizing the chip sealing of Fourth, Jefferson and Lake streets.

The projects are an extension of the work the DOT will perform in the late summer, at no cost to the city.

“TIB likes to have them go through communities,” he said.

The sidewalk on the the northern side of SR 902 will also be finished, from Stanley Street up to Graham Road.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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