POST FALLS - Urban renewal funding is coming in handy for Post Falls' city budget process.
At a workshop on Tuesday, the City Council agreed to include a 5 percent wage increase for police employees and a 3 percent hike for other city workers with a portion of the East Post Falls Urban Renewal District rebate funds in the city's proposed fiscal 2013 budget. The increases would not apply to department heads.
Council members say they would like to give the pay raises without raising taxes and asked staff to see if $80,000 can be cut in the proposed budget before the public hearing on Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.
However, a firm answer on whether a tax increase, if any, will be ultimately proposed remains unclear.
Cities are allowed to increase taxes up to 3 percent each year under law. The council took a 2 percent increase for the current budget and took no increase the previous two years.
Another unsettled budget factor is employee insurance premiums and plans, but staff is planning for a $212,400 increase in such a cost. Provider options are being explored.
Police salary hikes have been bantered in recent years to avoid the costs of having to train new employees due to other officers finding greener pastures.
"The biggest budget priority is trying to stem the loss of police officers and technical employees such as those with certifications in water and wastewater," said Eric Keck, city administrator.
Most city employees have not had a wage increase in four years.
"We've been told that our employees are our biggest asset, so let's take care of that first," council member Skip Hissong said.
Mayor Clay Larkin advocated that all city employees get a raise if police get one.
The total cost for the police increases would be $230,000 and $105,000 for the other employees.
Department requests total $890,000 of the East Post Falls URD rebate amount. Those include, but are not limited to, $350,000 for facility repairs, $179,000 to replace four police vehicles, $65,000 for a used dump truck for streets, $61,000 for a street patcher, $120,000 to retrofit a street sweeper and $15,000 for a forklift.
Additional future funding from the Riverbend Urban Renewal District, which expires this year, should aid the budget next year, city officials said, but they acknowledged that planning for the future on one-time funds can be risky business.
"I'm deeply concerned about our future of living off one-time revenues," Keck said. "Our reliance on that has been heavy and it's painted a rosier picture than what our General Fund has."
That's why Keck said a 1 percent tax increase in the budget to soften the blow for future budgets has some merit.
The tax hike scenario, if the council decides to propose one, on a $225,000 home would mean a $25.21 per year increase at 3 percent, a $16.81 per year increase at 2 percent and $8.40 per year hike at 1 percent.
The total proposed General Fund budget is $18.9 million, up from $18 million for the current budget.
Keck said maintaining levels of service, which has been a priority in recent years, is becoming harder with declining revenues and the costs of goods and services increasing.