Over the past three years Mount Rainier property values have risen faster than in any other part of the county. As a result our budget has grown significantly. This puts us in the enviable position of having many options for improving services, building infrastructure, and creating incentives for economic development. On the other hand, higher property value assessments mean higher property tax payments. Many people won't notice that their mortgage payments have increased by $25-$50 per month, but those on fixed incomes may be facing tough economic choices. And, in addition to paying more to the city, it's widely expected that the county tax rate will increase by $.09 for FY18.
The city manager and finance director have created a transparent, forward-looking budget that I believe will form a solid basis for improving quality of life for our residents.
However, I am proposing some modifications in recognition of the increased property tax burden and also because I believe that residents have not been getting their money's worth in city services for many years.
Because of our financial situation I believe that the mayor and council really can deliver both lower taxes and better services in FY18.
First, I propose a $.03 residential tax cut — the first tax cut in Mount Rainier in living memory (maybe ever?).
Second, I propose a 50 percent reduction in the business personal property tax, from $1.98 to $.99, in order to reward Mount Rainier's entrepreneurs and incentivize new businesses.
Third, I propose funding a new website. Last year's decision that we couldn't afford a better website isn't applicable this year. We have the money, and I hope we now all recognize the dire need.
Fourth, I propose establishing a part-time social services counselor/coordinator position. This person would not provide direct social services, but would provide expert advice about resources to residents in need. This person could also provide information in The Message and conduct workshops for employees and residents. Areas of expertise should include how to access county, state, federal, and non-profit resources in case of natural disaster, fire, eviction, domestic abuse, bullying, homelessness, and discrimination. The coordinator should also help residents apply for applicable tax credits, book the call-a-bus, access substance abuse counseling and support, and access elder care and mental health resources.
In addition I believe we should establish a policy of street cleaning and twice-weekly trash collection by Public Works in order to reduce rats and mosquitoes, remove litter, and prevent pollution flowing into our storm drains. If necessary we should add an additional (9th) position in Public Works to make that feasible. The savings necessary to create the position could come largely from providing services in-house (such as curb painting and grounds maintenance) instead of using outside contractors.
Here is how these changes would work financially:
Residential property tax cut - $128,199
Business personal property tax cut - $15,000
Web site - $30,000
Part-time social services coordinator - $30,000
Transfer to reserves - $75,000
Economic development capital projects - $142,000
School resource officer - $15,000
Council conferences - $7,500
I have also identified about a dozen more line items to supply funds if necessary.