City Council Roundup | Feb. 4, 2020
Posted on 02/13/2020

The Newcastle City Council roundups offer a digest of notable items for those who can't make it to the regular meetings. View the meeting agenda packet here and listen to the audio here. View past City Council roundups at newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps.

City Council Moves Forward on Fiscal Sustainability Implementation Plan

The Newcastle City Council moved one step closer to implementing much-needed solutions for an operating budget shortfall expected to eclipse $1 million for the foreseeable future. During the Feb. 4 meeting, the Council directed staff to bring back an implementation plan that would successfully resolve the fiscal gap for adoption at the Feb. 18 meeting. The proposed Implementation Plan includes a combination of cuts, cost recovery and the addition of a utility tax, with timelines for implementation. You can view the draft implementation plan here.

Newcastle relies on three revenue sources to fund basic City services like police, fire, and parks and street maintenance: Property taxes, sales taxes and development revenue. With a limited commercial retail base, declining opportunities for development and ever-increasing public safety costs (which remains the City’s largest expense), the City does not currently have the revenue streams to provide the level of service the community desires, as outlined in the most recent community survey.

The City Council will likely rely on a suite of solutions to fix the projected operating budget deficit. In addition to staff reductions already implemented, Councilmembers are exploring the possibility of a phased-in approach to a utility tax that would effectively solve the fiscal gap and ensure the City maintains its current level of service. That was the focus of the Council’s discussion during the Jan. 21 meeting (Read our meeting recap here).

Following their discussion from the previous meeting, City staff provided Councilmembers with answers to their questions about the implementation of a utility tax during the Feb. 4 meeting. The City Council can choose to put a referendum clause in any ordinance implementing a utility tax. That clause would give citizens an opportunity to collect enough signatures to put the matter of a tax increase on the ballot. Councilmembers learned that in order to prepare for a possible tax measure to be placed on the November 2020 ballot, a utility tax ordinance would have to be adopted by the end of April. Staff also noted that should the Council adopt a utility tax ordinance with stepped increases over time, Councilmembers could amend the ordinance to pause implementation of future increases should conditions warrant, giving Councilmembers control over rate increases.

Please note that adoption of this Fiscal Sustainability Implementation Action Plan, which is slated for consideration at the Feb. 18 meeting, is NOT the adoption of a utility tax. If a utility tax were to be implemented, Councilmembers must first direct staff to bring back a utility tax ordinance. All ordinances require a public hearing, so citizens would have an opportunity to comment before any consideration. Please stay tuned to these City Council recaps (newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps) for the latest news and updates on further Council actions.

General Updates

- The City Council received a report on a proposal to increase impact fees for Transportation and Parks/Trails. Impact fees are one-time charges assessed by a local government against a new development project to help pay for new or expanded public facilities that will directly address the increased demand for services created by that development. The City has not updated its impact fees since 2014. The proposal is to increase the Transportation Impact Fee from $6,475 to $7,552 and Parks Impact Fee from $3,006 to $5,381. The Council did not take any action and will continue discussion on this at a future meeting. Flip through a copy of the consultant presentation here.

- The Newcastle City Council received an update on an effort to create an Arts and Culture Plan for the City. Last year, the City received a $9,000 4Culture grant to pay for a consultant to guide this project. Staff shared the outcomes of Phase 1 and sought Council direction on whether or not to continue pursuing this effort. While a grant pays for the consultant, Newcastle is required to dedicate a certain amount of City staff time to the project. Due to the City’s current economic condition and a short-handed City staff, Councilmembers chose not to pursue Phase 2. Councilmembers stressed that arts and culture are still very important to this community, and we’ll work to continue its advancement through our events and partnerships with local organizations.

- Prior to the regular meeting, the Newcastle City Council held a joint meeting with the Community Activities Commission. They shared their accomplishments for 2019 and shared their 2020 Work Plan. The Newcastle Community Activities Commission is comprised of seven community members who volunteer their time and expertise to serve as a review and advisory body to the City Council on City-owned parks and trails, recreation programs, community events and community engagement. They're instrumental in planning and staffing community celebrations such as Newcastle Days, Boocastle and much more.

The Newcastle City Council wants to hear from you! Members of the public are invited to share thoughts during public hearings or two open public comment periods at meetings. Regular meetings of the City Council occur on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at City Hall, starting at 7 p.m. You can also email your thoughts to Councilmembers. To send a message to the entire Council, email citycouncil@newcastlewa.gov.

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