BURLINGTON — The Burlington City Council is preparing to make some tough decisions as it considers how to stabilize the city’s long-term finances.
At a budget workshop Thursday, interim City Administrator Greg Young said the council will have to consider raising taxes and cutting spending if it wants a balanced budget past 2020.
In order to create a balanced budget for 2020, Young said he and Mayor Steve Sexton propose 5% cuts in each city department, as well as cutting funding for street repair and equipment replacement.
Going forward, Young said the city will need to find revenue to bring back that funding, or have serious conversations about reducing levels of service.
“If we institute zero new revenue and keep expenditure the same ... in 2024 we go in the red,” Young said.
He proposes some combination of increasing property taxes by up to 2%, increasing utility taxes by up to 2%, and implementing a business and occupation tax of up to 0.2% of business revenue.
“It’s a problem, but there’s a solution to the problem,” Sexton said. “The question is, how are we going to get there?”
Sexton attributes the situation to diminishing sales tax revenue and increasing personnel costs.
Because of its high volume of sales, the city generates about 35% of the county’s overall sales tax, he said. And while sales tax growth over the past several years sustained the city’s growing costs, this revenue source is leveling out.
However, because of its sales tax revenue Burlington has been able to avoid increasing taxes that other cities have implemented, he said.
Sexton said the proposed tax increases would start to bring the city more in line with what other cities in Skagit County collect.
With regards to cutting expenditures, Young said the quickest way to reduce spending is by cutting staff.
“We’re not cutting paper, we’re cutting people,” he said. “Those are the cuts that make a real impact (on a budget).”
After Young’s presentation, several members of the council said they would oppose a business and occupation tax, but were receptive to conversations on other increases.
The council will meet for another budget workshop in early November, Young said.