Port Angeles City Council considers budget with no rate hikes

Majority OKs 1 percent bump in property tax

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council conducted virtual hearings this week on the proposed 2021 budget and the carryover of existing water and wastewater utility rates.

A council majority also voted Tuesday to pass a resolution authorizing a 1 percent — or $47,297 — increase in the amount of property tax the city will collect next year.

Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa said the city can keep water and wastewater rates constant for the next two years because of savings from refunded 2009-2010 water and wastewater bonds.

Electric and other utility rates also will remain flat next year.

“This 2021 budget was balanced without the need for any utility rate increases,” Carrizosa told the council Tuesday.

The $132.6 million citywide budget maintains core services despite significant impacts from COVID-19.

The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of the city’s budget in both revenue and expenditures, Carrizosa said.

“What this budget does is it essentially is designed to carry our services forward into 2021,” Carrizosa said during a five-hour, 51-minute virtual meeting.

“We’ve been able to do that because of the past decisions that were made financially by the city. That allowed us to be able to essentially weather the storm as we go though the next year with the uncertainties related to the pandemic.”

The budget adds funding for a community paramedic, pays off debt on the 12-year-old Gateway transit center, dedicates $33.6 million to capital projects and increases capital transfers for street and utility maintenance, Carrizosa said.

The city’s general fund budget for day-to-day operations was balanced at $21.5 million through the use of $787,600 in 2019 savings.

City Manager Nathan West said the budget pays down debt and invests in infrastructure and one-time capital.

“As you look at the approach that we took for 2021, we started with the importance of respecting the challenges that are faced by our citizens and businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many economic implications this has had for our entire community,” West said.

“I think it’s important to share, too, that each year we have seen substantial challenges with expenditures increasing beyond the ability for revenues to increase and match them.

“I think it makes the feat of balancing the budget that much more impressive when we see lower-level staff coming up with creative solutions from the bottom up that provide savings and more efficient ways of doing things to enable us to make those expenditures and revenues align,” West added.

The city has provided about $400,000 in utility, rent and mortgage assistance to residents who are struggling to make ends meet during COVID-19.

No verbal comment was made during a public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday.

The council is expected to approve a final budget after a second reading and public hearing Dec. 1.

The proposed city budget is available at www.cityofpa.us.

Meanwhile, the council voted 5-2 — with Charlie McCaughan and Brendan Meyer opposed — on separate motions related to 2021 property tax collections.

State statute requires the council to pass an ordinance levying property tax for collection in 2021 and a resolution authorizing the 1 percent increase.

A 1 percent increase in the city’s property tax, the maximum allowed by state law without a vote of the people, will cost residents, on average, about $9.10 next year, Carrizosa said.

The actual increase will vary based on changes to assessed values in 2020.

“It will be different for each homeowner,” Carrizosa said.

Property tax is the city’s largest source of funding for general services. It funds the police, fire, public works and parks departments.

The city’s total levy collection for 2021 is estimated to be $4.8 million.

On Nov. 4, the council had passed a resolution authorizing a “substantial need” for the 1 percent increase, a requirement of state law.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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