City Council Roundup | Nov. 5, 2019
Posted on 11/07/2019

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 the audio here. View past City Council roundups at newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps.

Council Reviews 2020 Preliminary Budget

The Newcastle City Council continued reviewing the 2020 preliminary budget and explored ways to reduce a projected operating deficit of $1.3 million, driven largely by increasing costs to fund police and fire services. Public safety expenditures alone make up nearly half of the City’s operating budget. In 2020, the service contracts with Bellevue Fire and the King County Sheriff’s Office will go up a combined $700,000, a 14 percent increase over 2019.  

Not only are costs for policing going up, but the need for officers is increasing due to a growing population. In response to the Council’s prioritization of public safety, the preliminary budget proposal includes the addition of a motorcycle officer to Newcastle’s police force. A motorcycle officer is essential to traffic enforcement along busy Coal Creek Parkway where it is difficult for a full-sized police vehicle to pull over and enforce speeding violations. The officer also would be better equipped to position in discreet locations to monitor speeding and traffic violations.

Councilmembers at the Nov. 5 meeting noted that Newcastle’s police department has fewer officers per capita than neighboring cities. For example, Medina, a community of about 3,000, has 11 people in their police department. As of 2019, Newcastle has 10 police officers to serve upwards of 12,000 people.

During the meeting, a few members of the City Council proposed postponing the hiring of an additional officer for a year or more due to the projected budget deficit. Other Councilmembers highlighted a need to appropriately staff the department. They also pointed out that Newcastle does not currently have adequate staffing to ensure two officers are on staff at all times, which is a safety concern for both deputies and residents. The proposal failed by a 3-4 vote, so the additional officer remains in the preliminary budget for 2020.

The 2020 budget proposal also includes funding for an existing accountant position to help ensure Newcastle is receiving its owed sales tax. This issue requires a higher level of oversight, in part, because of the U.S. Postal Service's long-held stance of denying Newcastle's request for a unique ZIP code. Staff said this position would likely pay for itself with improved tax enforcement, bringing in additional revenue. A Councilmember motion to postpone filling this position in 2020 also failed 3-4.

As the City looks to solve forecasted financial challenges, the 2020 preliminary budget condenses the roles of two employees into one position. The roles of the Community Activities Coordinator, who coordinates events, volunteers and the efforts of the Community Activities Commission, and the formerly contracted Communications Coordinator, who manages the City’s website, social media accounts, email and other outreach, will be combined in an effort to cut staff costs.

During the Nov. 5 meeting, the Council found a few strategies to reduce the $1.3 million deficit by about $300,000. They directed the City Manager to find expenditure reductions totaling $50,000 in the operating budget. Councilmembers left it up to the City Manager to decide what to cut, but they offered suggestions such as eliminating funding for public art on utility boxes ($7,500), additional historical signage ($5,500) and more. The Council also directed the City pay about $215,000 for fire services in 2019, rather than 2020. This is a cost shift and does not affect the overall ending fund balance. 

On the revenue side, the City Council adopted the recommended property tax levy rate, taking the state-allowed 1 percent increase for 2020. It will result in an additional $52,294 in operating revenue for the City next year. You can calculate how that will affect your property taxes: Take your property’s assessed valuation, multiply that by the estimated levy rate (1.50890) and divide that by 1,000 to find out exactly how much of your property taxes go to the City. A property valued at $700,000 would yield about $1,056, or about $88 a month, to the City of Newcastle. The City portion of your property tax bill is a relatively small amount as more than half of your payment goes toward funding schools. 

As for additional revenue sources, a motion to further discuss the possibility of implementing a 5 percent admissions tax was introduced. An admissions tax would be levied whenever a charge is collected for admission into any place or event for entertainment or recreation. The user tax would be collected for the City by the business charging the admission. It would primarily affect The Golf Club at Newcastle, but could also impact businesses like the Coal Creek YMCA, and past figures estimate the tax could net about $200,000. The motion was defeated in a 3-4 vote. Councilmembers did not propose adding any other revenue streams.

With the Council changes, the 2020 projected operating deficit currently sits at about $1 million. The budget proposes using General Fund reserves to cover any shortfall in 2020, a strategy made possible by a healthy fund balance. However, this approach is not sustainable for the foreseeable future as reserves are drawn down. City staff will incorporate the changes and the City Council will continue budget deliberations at the next regular meeting on Nov. 19. The Council can continue to make amendments until the final budget adoption. View the budget, relevant news articles, important dates, meeting agendas and other materials at newcastlewa.gov/budget2020.

General Updates

— The City Council approved five amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, after making a handful of changes to the Parks, Trails and Recreation element. The Comprehensive Plan is a long-range plan that guides decision making to ensure steady progress toward achieving the City's desired future. View the Comprehensive Plan staff report  for a summary and read last meeting’s Council recap for a quick synopsis of the amendments.

— The City Council meeting adjourned at 11 p.m., before the Council could get to the remaining items on the agenda. They did not discuss the 2020 legislative priorities or hear committee/staff reports.

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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