Editor’s note: the story now reflects information from the 11/14/22 city council meeting- MD
Capital projects are getting a boost in the City of Sequim’s proposed $44.82 million 2023 budget.
City councilors will consider approval in next year’s budget later this month at the second of two public comment sessions set for Nov. 28; the first session came after press deadline on Nov. 14.
Included in the 2023 budget is about $14.9 million in capital projects, along with a 3-percent increase to sewer and water rates, and a 1-percent increase in property taxes, with both increases proposed annually through 2025.
In his budget statement, city manager Matt Huish said “operational expenses demonstrate modest increases from prior years reflecting a combination of a ‘return to normal’ after COVID-related budget cuts, inflationary pressures, market, and cost-of-living adjustments for employees and implementing maintenance and preventative measures.”
Huish wrote that he’s “most proud of the efforts taken on by staff to make service delivery a priority while sacrificing other initiatives.”
Sue Hagener, director of administrative services, said at a Sept. 26 council meeting that the city has a “robust capital improvement plan” that’s “significantly higher than previous years” because of delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.
City staff said a pavement overlay of West Washington Street in spring 2022 — costing about $742,000 — was the first capital project finished during the pandemic.
Some of the city’s 2023 capital projects include: design and planning for a new city shop; new playground equipment in Carrie Blake Community Park and Margaret Kirner Park ($250,000); a number of sewer, water and stormwater improvements; rehabilitation of North Sequim Avenue ($1 million); new sidewalks and bike lanes on a portion of North Sequim Avenue ($2.15 million), and starting installation of an automatic meter reading system ($500,000).
Design planning for the city shop upgrade proposed for 169 W. Hemlock St., will use some of the available American Rescue Plan Act funds — about $2.135 million — that city councilors approved in August.
Hagener said about $750,000 of the total will go to technology upgrades, $125,000 for improving the second floor of the Civic Center, and the remainder to the shop project’s design.
City staff report the shop expansion will be built between the existing shop and Third Avenue and allow staff to: stockpile material; store salt; stage vehicles; hold a greenhouse, fuel station and rechargeable vehicle infrastructure, and allow for future buildings for offices and equipment storage and maintenance.
City councilors agreed on Nov. 14 to include the shop as one of their priorities for legislators to fund in the upcoming legislative session.
At the Sept. 23 meeting, Hagener said every city department will see updated technology because what they have is “dated,” adding that the city’s goal is “to transform how we provide municipal services to this community.”
Councilors opted in 2020 and 2021 to not raise utility rates and property taxes because of the pandemic’s impact.
Hagener said a study recommended a 4-percent water increase and 2-percent sewer increase through 2030, and without increases the last two years, the city didn’t fund debt reserves and capital projects.
She added that continuing to not implement utility increases was unsustainable.
Councilors agreed 5-1 with mayor Tom Ferrell opposed and councilor William Armacost excused to approve the 3-percent increase to water and sewer rates on Nov. 14.
Total capital project costs in 2023 for the sewer fund are $4.62 million and $3.33 million for the water fund.
According to the city’s staff report, the average household cost for 500 cubic feet of water consumption in the last six years has increased about $2.35 per month, while homes using 1,000 cubic feet or more saw bills decrease about $6 per month ($103.50) with the elimination of the higher two-tiered sewer rate.
Hagener said on Sept. 23 the city has expanded its low income discount offerings in recent years by simplifying the application and eliminating restrictions, but of about 3,300 accounts only about 40 residents sign up for the discount.
“We wish people would take advantage of that,” she said.
For more information about the program, visit sequimwa.gov/440/Low-Income-Utility-Discount.
City staff have proposed increases to some contracts from 2022, including:
• $100,000 with the Sequim Health and Housing Collaborative
• $95,580 with Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center
• $30,000 with the Economic Development Council
• $30,000 with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula
The Health and Housing Collaborative typically receives $75,000 to be used on multiple projects between local agencies. Councilor Lowell Rathbun asked council to increase its funding to $250,000 but did not receive a majority vote to move forward.
Staffing levels are projected to increase by about three full-time employees, mostly temporary staffing to manage and develop capital projects, city staff report.
Salary and benefits go from $10.9 million this year to $11.6 million in 2023 after three bargaining unit contracts were negotiated, and a cost-of-living and market adjustments were added for non-represented staff, according to city documents. The staff budget makes up about 74 percent of the city’s total expenses.
Sequim Police staffing remains the same, with 20 officers, one code enforcement officer, four civilian staffers and a part-time emergency management coordinator. The police department’s budget goes up about 3 percent to $3.95 million for salary and benefit increases.
Cost for Criminal Justice Services — municipal court, prosecution, defense and jail services — will increase by $36,000 to about $416,000 in 2023 because of an annual consumer price increase adjustment, according to city documents.
Other notable budget items
• Staff requested a 1-percent allowable property tax increase annually through 2025. Council voted 5-1 with deputy mayor Brandon Janisse opposed on Nov. 14 to approve the increase.
• Huish and staff set priorities to: 1) update and implement new software and hardware across all departments; 2) implement the city’s Capital Improvement Program; 3) enact staff and resident surveys; 4) fill open positions; and 5) improve processes.
• Staff budgeted $20,000 to conduct a citizen survey.
• Some vehicle replacements include: two new police vehicles ($160,000); a new heavy duty dump truck ($280,000); a water truck ($75,000); and a street truck ($62,000).
• Department of Community Development staff report home construction starts have slowed but multiple projects could tentatively begin in 2023, such as Legacy Ridge (233 lots), Rolling Hills (215 lots) and others.
• Debt on the Civic Center, 152 W. Cedar St., will continue with $710,000 paid this year and $700,000 budgeted for 2023.
• The city plans to have $1.42 million in its Equipment Reserve Fund, and $1.46 million in its Rainy Day Fund for 2023.
For more about the Sequim budget, visit sequimwa.gov/1051/2023-Proposed-Budget.