Mercer Island City Council, 2018. Courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Mercer Island City Council, 2018. Courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Tax debate continues in Mercer Island

City council members start to take positions on potential levy lid lift.

Though “yes” and “no” campaigns have seemingly already begun, the Mercer Island City Council hasn’t decided yet if it will go to voters this fall with a levy lid lift.

While the council has been discussing the city’s financial challenges at its last few meetings, it is still debating the merits, timing and format of a property tax increase. City Manager Julie Underwood will present her recommendation on June 19.

The community is also weighing in, with public comments, social media posts and email campaigns, including one message alarmingly titled “Mass Shooting on Mercer Island,” which discussed the need for continued funding for Youth and Family Services (YFS) counselors in schools, as well as gun violence.

The counseling program is presumed to be one of many that will be evaluated on the expenditure side. The city has also been considering other types of new revenue to offset the “structural imbalance” in its budget, including changes to the utility tax, fund policies and B and O tax, though the latter has concerned small business owners on the Island.

Underwood said she planned to present a balanced budget “one way or another” to the council, starting with a budget discussion at the June 9 planning session. She said she had to be “realistic and honest” about the planned multi-million cuts in the next biennium.

In addition, the council will have to loan itself money until Sound Transit can reimburse it for the costs of two new parking facilities in Town Center. Downtown parking was one of the main issues identified in the latest citizen survey, though respondents were mostly “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with city services.

The majority of a group of 23 Islanders — the Community Advisory Group (CAG) — recommended last month that the city move forward with the levy. A “minority report” advised cost containment instead of a tax increase. Its message is echoed by the political action committee Mercer Islanders for Sustainable Spending (MIforSS).

Former City Council member Mike Cero, who is heading up the MIforSS group, also sent an email last weekend, titled “Do Not Increase MI Taxes.”

Deputy Mayor Salim Nice suggested, and the council agreed, to have a third-party consultant review the city’s methodology and assumptions built into the budget projections and forecasts. Management Partners will deliver its findings at the July 10 council meeting.

At the planning session, Nice presented a plan that did not involve a tax increase in 2018, which was seemingly supported by Council members Tom Acker, Wendy Weiker and Dave Wisenteiner. Acker had previously said that the only levy he would support would be a stand alone measure to fund the school counselors.

For more, see www.mercergov.org/FinancialChallenges.

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