City council passes budget, raises utility rates

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Blaine City Council voted to adopt a 2020 budget for the city of Blaine. The budget totals $51 million, a 10 percent decrease from the 2019 budget, and it raises utility rates for Blaine residents.

At the December 9 public meeting, four city councilmembers voted for Ordinance 19-2939 adopting the 2020 budget. Two councilmembers were not present, and new councilmember Garth Baldwin abstained because he did not participate in the council’s budget work sessions.

“After the culmination of four budget study sessions and two public hearings, staff presents to council a balanced 2020 budget,” city finance director Jeffrey Lazenby told councilmembers prior to the vote. “This includes all operating and capital funds. The budget’s funding priorities are focused on law enforcement, economic development, city vehicle replacement programs for both police and public works, parks and facilities maintenance and maintenance and improvement of city infrastructure.”

Lazenby said that 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions will be funded by the 2020 budget. He said that the primary reason for the 10 percent decrease in the 2020 budget was the completion of one-time capital projects planned for in the 2019 budget.

The 2020 budget will be funded in part by increased utility and stormwater rates. Specifically, 2020 will see a utility rate increase of 2.8 percent for electric, water and sewer, and a five percent rate increase for stormwater.

The 2.8 percent utility rate increase is based on the rate policy that was adopted by city council through Resolution 1725a-17, which stated that for 2018, 2019 and 2020, the utility rates and the general facility fees or connection fees would be based on the change in the U.S. consumer price index (CPI) plus one percent. The five percent stormwater rate increase, meanwhile, is not based on a prior resolution.

“For the stormwater, that was something new that staff had discussed with council during a budget study session when we were specifically discussing the utility budgets,” Lazenby said. He said that the real cost of the stormwater rate increase is roughly 30 cents for a single family household per month.

Prior to the budget vote, Lazenby told councilmembers that higher stormwater rates were needed because the stormwater fund is a small fund and the operational maintenance and capital needs are extensive.

“With appreciation for increasing costs and inflation hitting everybody, in order for the utilities to operate in the black, so to speak, they have to keep up with the cost of doing business as well as investing in capital improvements,” he said at the meeting. “Sometimes that is more than the change in the CPI or more than an inflation index that Social Security uses, for example. Having an annual rate policy that strikes a balance between what the ratepayers can afford and what the utilities need to stay afloat is important.”

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