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City facing lean budget

Now that Port Orchard has gotten accustomed to dealing with the 1 percent growth cap restrictions mandated via initiative in 2000, it now has to deal with a significant drop in projected sales tax revenues for next year.

Ever since the state economy crashed in 2001, the city has been experiencing a near-steady decrease in its sales tax revenues. Using current projections for tax collection through the end of this year, city treasurer Kris Tompkins estimates Port Orchard will collect slightly more revenue than it did in 1999 — four years ago.

The slight increase the city experienced in 2002, when sales tax revenues inched up from $2.13 million to $2.19 million, is gone. Tompkins expects to get only $2.08 million from sales tax this year.

Concerned that sales tax might not even hit that mark, Tomkins prepared this year’s city budget with an assumption of only $2 million in sales tax — $500,000 above the amount collected to date. The preliminary budget figures, released at last Monday night’s City Council meeting, show significant restraint in revenue projections across the board.

“I felt we should be conservative,” Tompkins said.

Other glitches have popped up as well.

Due to a statistical anomaly, the city will be handing out an extra paycheck during 2004. With an estimated 55 staff on the city payroll, the additional funding needed to cover those checks is not insignificant.

Next year, the city will also have to start writing major checks for the Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plant expansion. The estimated funding outlay is more than $5.7 million — money Tompkins said will likely have to be pulled from the city’s pre-approved low-interest public works loan.

With the combination of less projected revenue and higher expenses, the city’s already looking for ways to trim wherever it can. The Mayor’s budget recommendations called for deleting $75,000 in routine expenses, mostly from the street and law enforcement budgets, and taking $15,000 out of the city’s cumulative reserve municipal facilities fund in order to close an estimated $90,000 gap.

The $15,000, which is funded by real estate excise taxes, will go directly toward starting work on the proposed police indoor firing range.

Other requested supplemental expenses — anything from photos of city hall to a new library roof — will likely remain unfunded, Tompkins said.

“It’s about keeping it bare bones,” she said.

The city still has several more weeks to shuffle the budget around, however. The City Council’s budget study session isn’t scheduled until Nov. 24. Between now and then, Tompkins said, the council’s finance committee will be working with department heads to try and refine the budget and determine exactly what has to go.

Happily, said Tompkins, the city managers are well-prepared for a session of belt-tightening.

“They knew things were very lean,” she said.

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