Monday night, Dec. 13, was the last Council meeting for 2010 and the last opportunity for our City Council to approve the 2011 budget. We have had many discussions about various aspects of the budget over the last couple of months. My fellow Council members acted surprised when I voted against the 2011 budget. I’m surprised they were surprised. I have voiced my concerns at every opportunity, alas, to no avail. So, for the citizens who elected me to serve on the Maple Valley City Council here are some of my reasons for voting against the 2011 budget:
This budget increased the utility tax by 3 percent to the maximum of 6 percent. This action was taken to pay for 5 additional police officers and will cost our citizens $800,000. I believe this action was ill-advised during this budget cycle and considering the current economic climate I believe a more conservative approach was needed. I believe Council created a need without adequate consideration and chose the utility tax increase as a way to satisfy that need. In 2011 we will begin studying the possibility of creating our own police department rather than depend on our contract for officers through King County. I believe Council created an atmosphere of need and pushed this action through ‘because public safety is our number one priority.’ I agree that public safety is important and everyone wants to feel safe but I don’t believe we would have been “less safe” on January 1, 2011 had this action been tempered. I call it the ‘chicken little’ syndrome, i.e. the sky is falling, the sky is falling.
The Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety, our fire department, also contributes to our feeling of safety in our community. Rather than go to the citizens with a levy lid lift to raise more tax dollars they chose to do a thorough review of their operation and made operational and budgetary changes which will not negatively impact service and at the same time saved enough money they have put any levy lid lift actions on hold for the foreseeable future. My hat goes off to the Chief and his staff.
While increasing the tax burden on our citizens to the tune of $800,000 this budget froze city salaries with no merit increases or cost of living raises. I support the withholding of cost of living raises because our calculations show there was no increase. However, when the utility tax increase was approved the King County Police Union was standing firm on their contractual increase of 5 percent cost of living adjustment. As the economic pressure has continued to be exerted the union officials finally relented and agreed to reduce the adjustment from 5 percent to 3 percent. So while city staff salaries are frozen for 2011 our police officers will receive a 3 percent pay increase, and we are increasing the staffing level to boot. I understand we are understaffed in the police department, and other city departments as well, but in these economic times I believe we should have proceeded in a much more judicious manner. I keep asking “Where’s the balance?” So far I haven’t received an answer.
I do not believe our City Council heard the voters in November when we voted NO NEW TAXES. The 2012 budget cycle should be very interesting. For 2011 the budget was balanced on the backs of city staff. This Council didn’t do a very good job, in my estimation. They took the easy way out.
Linda A. Johnson
City Council Member
City Council Member