Did you know there’s a large budget surplus projected for Mercer Island this year?
At the Sept. 3 City Council meeting, the budget director had good news for the Council, but I question whether it’s good news for Island taxpayers.
The projected revenue surplus for this year, he said, will approach $1 million. While it’s due in part to the fees and taxes paid by residential and commercial development, a significant amount is attributed to the Council’s decision in December to raise the technology fee, the city Emergency Medical Service rates, the Basic Life Support Ambulance Transport fee, add a mileage surcharge fee to the Basic Life Support Ambulance Transport fee, increase the city water rate, approve the King County Sewer Treatment rate increase, increase the city sewer maintenance rate, increase the city storm water rate, increase property taxes, increase the water utility tax, impose a new sewer utility tax and a new storm water utility tax. Whew.
Was it really necessary to raise taxes? Now there’s talk of even more new taxes! Although new revenue goes to different “buckets,” the money comes from only one purse. I’m concerned that because we live in an affluent community, some City Council members think we are the ATM machine. I expect our Council members to be fiscally responsible, run the city efficiently and be able to say ‘no.’ It doesn’t take much leadership skill or creativity to just raise taxes and spend more money.
Council member Dan Grausz’s comments during the surplus discussion centered on putting the surplus to “capital projects.” He’s already thinking about how to spend it! Mr. Grausz mentioned at a recent Rotary meeting that one of the major issues facing the city was the current statutory limit to raise property taxes no more than one percent per year. What’s going on with Mr. Grausz and taxes? He voted for all the aforementioned taxes, and he continues to push for more taxes. He’s a vocal supporter of the proposed Transportation Benefit District, which would impose yet another new tax to fund a parking problem created by his (and others) approvals of new development with inadequate parking provisions.
With all the downtown development adding hundreds of new units to the property tax base and providing steady revenue increases over the last five years (during the recession), why is that steady increase in tax revenues not enough? Maybe instead of looking for ways to spend the swelling surplus, the Council might consider ways to give some back to their taxpayers by reevaluating some of these newer taxes.