Business tax increase and biennial Burien budget approved Monday night 1by Jack Mayne After a long debate over whether to authorize hiring of a new economic development specialist, the Burien City Council at its Monday meeting (Dec. 1) approved on a 5-2 vote the two-year city budget. The final budget for 2015 – 2016 lists total resources of $84.2 million for all funds, including capital projects, with expenditures balanced at the same amount including fund reserves. The total budget for 2015 is $48.9 million. Councilmembers Debi Wagner and Nancy Tosta voted against final passage. Councilmembers also approved an increase in the city’s business and occupations tax and the 2015 financial plan. Battle over new specialist The Council spent an hour wondering if the two-year budget should include a $213,600 figure for a new economic development specialist position that the city administration has proposed. City Manager Kamuron Gurol had to tell Council several times he would prefer the position stay in the budget but that no money would be spent, no person hired, until Council made those decisions. Wagner wondered if the $213,000 biennial figure should be in the budget until the Council decided during deliberations in January “goals and actions” as to what that person would do and whether a new hire was needed to carry out Council plans. She said she wanted it to be a “potential figure” until that decision. “It would make sense, at least from my perspective, for the Council to go ahead and approve the position,” Gurol said. “I would defer hiring the position until we have the Council’s completed prioritizations – so we would know where the programs and the priorities the Council wants to pursue and then, presuming that those involved needing the work of the specialist, we would proceed to hire that position.” He said the budget is merely to “stand ready” when the plan is done. He repeated several time he would not hire a person for the position until the Council defines its duties. If the priorities show that the position is not needed “then we will not proceed in hiring for that position – it will remain vacant and the expenditure will not be expended,” Gurol said. Tosta said she wished to keep the position out of the budget until the members better described the job in January. Wagner agreed, but then said she wanted to remove the economic development specialist and professional services, a two-year total of $673,610 “which takes up, in my estimation, the bulk of the percentage of our B&O increase.” “I voted against the B&O increase originally and I haven’t been in favor of any of this from the beginning … ,” she said. After an hour of haggling, Councilmember Steve Armstrong said “we are dissecting this thing to death” and that the position would not be filled until the Council approved the intended goals for the job, then “staff will act accordingly.” The budget “is a good product, let’s move forward,” he said, and five Councilmembers voted to approve it. Business tax hike The Council also approved an increase in the city’s Business and Occupation Tax rates from one-quarter to one-half percent of annual gross revenues, wile raising the threshold for businesses that must pay the tax from an annual gross of $100,000 to $200,000. Burien Finance Director Kim Krause had told the Council at previous meetings that approximately 840 businesses have gross earnings between $100,000 and $200,000, which now will be totally exempt from paying the city B&O tax. There are approximately 675 businesses that have reported more than $200,000 annually, which would be subject to the new, higher tax. Krause estimated the annual increase in revenue would be about $430,000 and the Council had previously voted to spend “up to 50 percent” of the revenue increase for retaining and developing new businesses in Burien. Councilmember Wagner said Monday night she wanted to change the percentage to “at least 40 percent but not more than 50 percent” for economic development. Councilmember Tosta said economic development could mean a lot of things, from street safety to supporting arts. But the money coming from the business community should help that community, said Councilmember Gerald Robison, who favored having a range that would be used to develop city business. Wagner agreed that the businesses that voiced support for increasing the tax were supportive because a good portion of the increased revenue would be to support economic development. The change was approved 6 to 1, with Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz voting no. Then the tax increase was approved unanimously. 2015 Financial Policy The city’s 2015 financial policy is a “set of values and expectations for Council members, city staff, citizens and other interested parties” for the way the city “to assure prudent financial management and responsible stewardship …” This sets policy for cost of living allowances – for 2015 it is 2 percent, said Gurol – and to increase the amount the city budgets for human services by one-quarter of a percent to 1.25 percent. The Council approved the policy unanimously.]]>