Council hears somber financials

Published on Thu, Mar 14, 2002
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Council hears somber financials

Despite a year of cuts and belt-tightening, Blaine still is paying out more than it’s taking in. “Our beginning fund balance for 2002 has declined by $200,000 compared to 2001,” said city finance director Meredith Riley in a somber year-end financial report at the March 11 city council meeting. “General fund revenues are not keeping up with expenditures.”

Property taxes inched up in 2001 because of back taxes coming in and traffic and criminal fines went up 50 percent due to more officers on the street and more aggressive collection. “Sales tax is another story,” Riley said. Of the $674,000 budgeted for sales tax revenues in 2001, the city only collected $607,000, down nearly n80 percent from 2000. “It was down throughout the year,” Riley said, explaining that the lull appeared to be unrelated to events of September 11. Gas tax was also down and hotel/motel taxes in the fall dropped 28 percent below the previous year. “September 11 certainly affected the hotel/motel tax,” Riley said.

Riley said all city departments did a good job of managing expenses. “No one went over budget,” she said. Actual expenditures for the general fund were 2.5 percent below budgeted amounts. “It’s always good to hear we’re under budget,” said council member Bonnie Onyon. “What’s not good is revenues aren’t keeping up.”

At their March 11 meeting city council unanimously rejected Café International owner Art Lawrenson’s request to do away with a $200 flat annual tax on cardrooms. Lawrenson runs the only card room in Blaine. Blaine adopted a three percent gambling tax on pulltabs, two percent on bingo and the card room flat fee in 1981. The pulltab tax was decreased in 1996 and 1998, then eliminated in 1999.

“State laws allow the city to collect up to 20 percent of gross revenues from card rooms. A considerable amount of revenue could be generated by the city if a tax on receipts were in place,” city manager Gary Tomsic said. “The gambling businesses recently came to you and asked to have their business licenses reduced. They went from $500 to $75. I think the city’s been very fair to these businesses.”

Council members unanimously agreed to leave the card room tax in place. “I think if anything we’ll go up, not down,” said mayor Dieter Schugt. “Over the course of the year we’ll have to look at other things as sources of revenue.”

Blaine city council approved a zoning change to allow fire stations in rural zones of the city, paving the way for the city’s new fire station to be built on the east side of Odell Road. The site is the top pick of a committee planning the new fire station, presented to council at a special meeting March 4. Captain Jim Rutherford of the Blaine fire department said it was ideally situated for Blaine volunteers to get there and get out to calls quickly.

The 1.2 acre site at 9408 Odell is the smallest the committee looked at but Rutherford said it would accommodate the planned station. “We’ll be a little tight but we don’t need five acres either,” he said. “Initially when we looked for 2.5 acres we were looking at the possibility of the new station being the headquarters for North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS). That’s changed. This will be a station to serve Blaine.”

Council member Ken Ely was concerned the site was too small to accommodate growth. “We think this building will outlast the 20-year period covered by the bond,” Rutherford said. Blaine voters approved a $1.6 million revenue bond to build the station on land purchased by NWFRS. Should the city and the fire service agree to an annexation, the station would become officially part of NWFRS. A study session on the annexation question is scheduled for March 18, 5:15 p.m. at city hall...

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