If McCleary voters approve both property tax measures, then it will solve all of the city’s current financial problems for at least the next year.
However, it won’t restore services already cut. The current budget laid off a police officer, a police clerk, reduced hours for a building official and dipped into reserves and relies on a transfer from the city’s power utility to balance the budget.
If voters just approve the M&O levy (Proposition 1) for police protection, it will generate an extra $110,000 for the next year. If voters approve the levy lid lift (Proposition 2), it will generate $60,000 for the next six years — but still mean cuts would be needed in the future. The levy would need a 60 percent voter approval to pass. The lid lift needs just a simple majority to pass.
There’s been a public push to contract police services with the Sheriff’s Office as a means to save money, instead of raising taxes. But, if there’s not public support, or support from the majority on the council and Mayor Gary Dent, then contracting out police services becomes moot.
That means the city of McCleary would have to find somewhere else to make cuts. Dent has refused to say what his ideas are for cuts should the tax measures fail. He re-iterated his position saying he just “had some ideas” during a public forum on July 17.
Last fall, however, Dent tasked his clerk-treasurer and then-Public Works Director Nick Bird to come up with potential cuts or ways to raise revenue. The options were looked at for the 2014 budget year, but also for the 2015 budget year, as well. The information was shared with a few council members during last year’s budget process, but never presented at a full McCleary City Council meeting.
The Vidette obtained the 12-page worksheet using the state’s Public Records Act.
The worksheets looked at both the real savings the city could see through the assorted cuts, but also identified the social impacts, or perceived impacts, as well.
For instance, by eliminating the utility costs the city was paying to the museum, the city saves $3,000, but “the museum may cease to exist. The minor contribution continues to provide necessary assistance to keep the facility open.”
By eliminating the city’s assistance to the library, the city could save $4,500 — but there are also questions involving the city’s contract with the Timberland Regional Library District.
Reducing services to the city’s parks has the potential to save money. By simply no longer mowing the parks, the city could save $14,340. Closing the playgrounds would save the city $1,000 in maintenance costs. Closing the city’s Community Center would save the city $6,900. The costs for the community center were $11,400 last year, while it only brought in $4,500 in revenue.
“The image of the recreational facilities represent the image of the community,” the worksheet says. “By reducing any of these three items, the community image will be dramatically impacted. Eliminating playground maintenance will dramatically increase our liability associated with the facility.”
The worksheet notes that the city would likely not see any savings by contracting out fire services. The city’s volunteer fire department costs the city $48,083 to $53,283 per year, according to the worksheet. But the costs for contracting out services with Fire District 12 would likely end up being about $50,000. And, if the city contracted fire services out with Fire District 5, the costs could be up to $75,000 — more than what the city is paying now.
The city could also eliminate services to the cemetery, saving $17,726 per year, the worksheet states.
“Cemetery has been reduced to wages, benefits, and operational supplies to mow the grass, with the exception of three minor capital items, which will be necessary if we mow, but will not be necessary if we do not,” the worksheet states. “The only option left is to not mow the grass. … Public backlash when visiting loved ones at the cemetery will be a regular occurrence.”
The worksheet also notes that the city could save $33,000 by contracting out municipal court services to Elma. The city spends about $73,000 on court services with a half-time clerk, the cost for the judge, paying for prosecution and public defense and other costs. The worksheet assumes a contract at Elma would cost the city about $40,000. Of course, that means anyone who gets an infraction in McCleary would have to drive to Elma to deal with the issue.
Besides cuts, the worksheet also addresses potential revenue generators, including the police levies on the ballot.
One idea suggested is a B&O tax on businesses, which cities such as Aberdeen and Cosmopolis have, but McCleary does not. The city would likely get extra funds from its major business, the Simpson Door plant.
The city could also ask voters to increase its sales tax, but revenue generated — because the city doesn’t have a huge commercial district — may be negligible.
If voters don’t approve a levy to support the police department, the worksheet suggests going to the voters with a levy to support the fire department.
The City Council could also establish a Transportation Benefit District by just a simple majority of the city council. Through this new taxing district, state law allows the city to then add a $20 tax to car tabs purchased by residents of McCleary. The tax could be implemented without a vote of the people. However, any higher than $20 requires a vote.
The worksheet notes that implementation of such a tax could allow the city to devote the revenue generated to streets and pull back the money currently allocated to the streets and use it to stave off potential cuts elsewhere.
The city could also require that residents license and register their animals — which some cities on the Harbor require — and use the money generated to help stave off cuts.
The city could also go to the voters and ask for an increase of the city’s power utility tax — or by simple majority of the council, increase the utility tax on water, sewer and stormwater services. However, residents are already angry that their utility bills are high.