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Let's Talk Fairview $$$

This week, the city council will hold a public hearing on the 2022-2023 budget, Fairview’s spending plan for the new fiscal year that kicks off July 1.

The $34.6 million plan represents a 14 percent increase over last year, mostly due to a loan for a new well, spending on urban renewal projects, and an increase in reserves courtesy of Congress and President Joe Biden.

The $4.1 million urban renewal budget will fund important new projects, like a new pedestrian and bike lane under the 223rd Avenue railroad undercrossing and the Heart of Fairview development on Halsey.

Here are my top three budget takeaways:

1) We need to set a new fiscal course. Fast. When the federal COVID relief funds are spent, Fairview will face the same pre-pandemic reality. We are not bringing in enough revenue to meet our expenses. Public safety spending, which includes law enforcement, fire, and 911 service, is about 76 percent of our general fund spending, and costs $1.4 million more than all of our annual property tax revenue. Yes, you read that right. A big and ever-increasing portion of your property taxes is used for public safety, leaving a shrinking amount to either improve those services or pay for park maintenance, community events, or anything else your city provides out of the General Fund. Fairview must bring in more money, and cut spending, or we risk draining our reserves – and failing to cover basic services. The issue is serious enough that City Manager Philip Morley recommended we put on pause hiring a community resource officer or buying security cameras – recommendations backed by our public safety committee – until we look more deeply into our budget dynamics and have a clearer understanding of our future options.

2) We about broke even with COVID. Thank Joe Biden and Congress for that. The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis but thanks to federal funding, we all averted a government budget crisis. Federal COVID relief aid has allowed our city – and county, state, and nation – to continue to provide critical services without going broke. Fairview has even put money into our reserve accounts thanks to relief funds. The city lost about $800,000 in revenue due to the pandemic, and also had to fund a COVID relief specialist and incur other COVID-related costs. But by the end of this year, the city will get a total of $2.1 million in federal COVID relief, including the second wave of support included in the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021. No matter your politics, you should thank them. Without ARPA, we’d have a hard time keeping firefighters and sheriff’s deputies on our streets.

3) We are making progress – largely due to urban renewal. There are some important new projects in the proposed $34.6 million general fund budget. This year, we will start work on a new well that will help ensure we can bring you drinking water. We’ve got $65,000 in improvements coming at Pelfrey Park, Salish Ponds, Fairview Woods, and Fairview Lake. Our PlayEast! recreation program will go mobile with the purchase a $40,000 van to bring activities right to kids. Finally, there is a slew of street and sidewalk improvements coming, including the long-awaited pedestrian and bike underpass on 223rd Avenue, which will finally allow safer passage under the Union Pacific railroad trestle. But the big new items fall under our separate $4.1 million urban renewal budget. Fairview’s urban renewal program allows us to bond against future property tax revenue within our urban renewal district to make improvements along Halsey Street, including the five-acre Heart of Fairview project and the Fairview Food Plaza, home to a food cart pod and our new Sunday Market.

I’m aware we’re sending what appear to be mixed budget messages.

On one hand, our general fund budget is getting squeezed tighter and tighter. Money is going out faster than its coming in – and when the COVID relief money is gone, we’ll be in a pickle. On the other hand, we’re spending millions under urban renewal for high-profile, high-impact projects that will bring new businesses and new housing options to Fairview. Because it’s spending under urban renewal, you won’t pay more in property taxes or fees. It’s all borrowing against bigger future tax revenue the projects are expected to haul in.

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