Washougal sets ‘hold the line’ budget for 2024

City Council to discuss $65M budget during Nov. 13 meeting

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Washougal Mayor David Stuebe (right) talks with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the city of Washougal's 32nd Street underpass project Friday, July 7, 2023, in Washougal. (Contributed photo courtesy of the city of Washougal)

The city of Washougal has received a significant amount of funding from the various agencies in 2023, including a $40 million United States Department of Transportation grant for its 32nd Street railroad underpass project.

Now, the City is ready to put that money to work.

“Washougal has a lot of momentum right now,” Mayor David Stube told the Post-Record in September. “We pulled in (a lot of grant) money, so my thing is, ‘We got the funds, so let’s execute.’ (We want to tell federal and state officials) that we have good projects, and we can deliver them. That’s our charge right now, making sure we do it the right way. We have to be careful that when we do the town center revitalization and the railroad underpass, (they’re done) perfectly. We have to execute properly. We’ve got to perform.”

City leaders believe that the City’s 2024 operating budget, which the City Council will consider adopting during it’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, will allow them to deliver on those aspirations.

The City’s $65 million budget for 2024 “is an expression of the Council’s priorities, maintains existing service levels and targets key service enhancements and continued capital investments,” according to City Manager David Scott.

The budget projects $65,037,995 in revenues and $79,821,442 in expenditures. “(Seventy-nine million dollars is) not (needed) to run the City, but to do all those capital projects,” Scott said during a Council workshop held Oct. 23. “That’s why that (expenditure) number is bigger than the revenues — we have saved money in order to do capital projects. All of those capital projects that we’re doing (are not financed by) general fund operating dollars. That’s all coming from grants and loans. We’ve had a lot of success with our robust capital program, but that’s separate from our operating (budget).”

Responding to a question from Councilman Ernie Suggs, Washougal Finance Director Daiel Layer said the City is “not immune from the challenges that all cities face.”

The City projects to collect $7.2 million in property taxes (a 14.2% increase from 2023), $4.2 million in sales tax (a 12.3% increase), and $3.4 million in utility taxes (a 14.3% increase) in 2024.

“Daniel was conservative with his revenue estimates, and that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in, but we need to be vigilant because it’s very interesting right now in terms of the economy,” Scott said. “We’ve been hearing for 18 months or more that there’s going to be a recession. I’m not aware that that’s occurred yet, but rates are supposed to continue to go (up). But we still have projects coming in — folks are planning to do things, and they’re pulling building permits, so we’re keeping an eye on it. If we have to adapt because the information changes, we’ll be ready to do that. It won’t be fun, but we’ll be ready to do it.”

In his message to the community, Scott wrote that the City is “experiencing significant cost pressures in ongoing program operations and escalating costs in delivering capital projects,” and that “the 2024 budget maintains our conservative management of ongoing expenses while adapting to the realities of these cost pressures.”

“It’s a ‘hold the line’ budget,” he said. “We’re able to maintain services — not increase services, but maintain services. And that comes with all the increased costs to maintain those services. All the things that people buy are more expensive, and the same is true for us. … We are able to maintain our services and handle the baseline increases, but we’re not able to add the positions and departments that we would really like to be able to add. Since I’ve been here, 13 years, we have not really been able to expand services in the community. We’ve just been able to keep up, and that’s basically what’s happening again in this budget.”

The budget includes investments in the City’s new strategic initiatives manager and community engagement program coordinator positions; mandated improvements to the City’s wastewater treatment plant; design and permitting for the City’s new 32nd Street underpass project; design, and permitting, and construction of the City’s Town Center civic campus project; and mandated updates to the City’s comprehensive land use plan and related capital facilities plans.

“This budget features several significant capital projects, which are made possible by our successful acquisition of state and federal capital project funding,” Scott wrote. “Mandated improvements at our wastewater treatment plant ensure compliance with state clean water requirements and adequate services into the future. We can get started on the design and permitting of the long-awaited 32nd Street underpass, which will ultimately transform our transportation system by removing the existing at-grade rail crossing barrier. The project fulfills a decade-old Council priority to eliminate this at grade crossing. The Town Center revitalization project delivers new community amenities in response to community priorities.”

The budget appropriates $785,000 of general fund reserves — all “rollovers” from 2023 appropriations — and assumes that the Council will adopt a 1% increase to the City’s property tax levy, and that the City’s emergency medical services levy will be renewed, Layer said.

Washougal, which contracts with the city of Camas to provide fire services, has budgeted to spend $5.2 million on fire services in 2024, a 16% increase from 2023.

The cities are currently working to establish a new model for providing fire services to east Clark County, and may soon ask Camas-Washougal voters to approve the creation of a regional fire authority.