City Looks to Keep Pool, Raise Taxes

Despite the $250,000 setback in the general fund budget, the Chewelah City Council plans to continue funding the city pool for eight weeks in 2013 using the entire pool/park reserve. This, among other city budget issues, was discussed during the third city council budget session on Oct. 8.

The current park/pool reserve funding would add $26,815 to the 2013 general fund budget.

In 2012, pool funding was originally cut from the budget, however, community members donated $22,000 towards keeping it open for eight weeks. It was in operation from July 9 to Aug. 31 and brought in $10,000 in revenue, but required $47,000 to run during that time.

City Administrator Mike Frizzell said they can keep the pool going for the next year, although it operates at a loss, but its condition will keep deteriorating if major issues are not addressed. For example, it loses 2,500 gallons of treated water each day due to an unidentified leak that may be very costly to repair, Frizzell said.

He said one of the 5 or 6 major contributors to the 2012 pool donation told him, after seeing its current condition, that they may not have donated if they had been aware of all the issues.

Councilwoman Dorothy Knauss suggested the council create a citizen advisory committee to look at the condition for themselves and make a recommendation to the council what to do after considering everything.

Councilman John May says that swimming lessons are the most important part of keeping the pool open to keep people safe with so much lake activity in the surrounding area.

The city council plans to increase water and sewer taxes in 2013 from 15 to 17 percent and add a 17 percent garbage utility tax. With the additional taxes, general fund revenues will increase by about $80,000.

So, with the cuts to library funding and eliminating certain positions discussed at previous budget meetings, the city council has found a way to cut approximately $230,000 annually from the budget. Frizzell said they can make it work for the year as he sees no where else to make cuts.

The budgeted general fund annual expenditures totaled $1.5 million in 2012 with a projected ending balance of $140,000. For 2013, the projected ending balance would be $147,000 but that is without spending any money on capital projects.

Positions that may be cut include a library position, public works position, and executive secretary position.

Lasko suggested reducing public works staff even further. However, the other council members seemed in consensus that they did not agree and Frizzell also advised against it.

Gary Nussbaum, public works supervisor, said they will lose services if more employees are lost. They already have to use employees from all city departments to help plow the roads in the winter, he said.

Knauss said she would rather lose the pool before any more employees. Lasko said he was assuming they would not have the pool and still need to cut.

Nussbaum said the budget for road surfacing remains the same as last year to include basic repairs for dust control and chip seal. However, major repairs will be needed as the roads continue to deteriorate.

In reference to the city proposing to cut all library funding, Amanda Six, the director of the Libraries of Stevens County, explained to the council that the library district has an interest in keeping the Chewelah Public Library open in 2013 part-time.

Six said the district board of trustees wants to create an interlocal agreement with the city to allow residents use of the library although they are no longer funding it. In the agreement, the city would provide the use of the current library building for the next three years, through 2015, even if the city votes to annex into the library district.

Annexation would give the city residents an additional layer of taxation for the Libraries of Stevens County to provide those services the city has funded in the past.

The building value, estimated at about $37,000 a year, would equal the contribution the city would have normally funded the library at in 2013 if promised for three years.

The building value is estimated to include rental rate per square footage. Insurance, utilities, and janitorial services are also included but are expenses the city would have had incurred either way.

The interlocal agreement will also include a commitment from the city to put the option for city residents to annex into the district on the April 2013 special election ballot, which could cost up to $5,000.

The district will have to pull an additional $50,000 from other parts of their budget to keep the Chewelah library open about three days a week versus six days a week, Six said. That would be in addition to the $100,000 they already allocate to it each year.

Councilwoman Carra Nupp said she hopes the public understands that they are not wanting to close the library, but instead have found other options to be able to reduce the budget and keep a library in the community.

The next and final budget meeting will be Monday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Chewelah City Council chambers. The next city council regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m.

By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff