The proposed 2023 budget for the city of Battle Ground will see a healthy increase from this year in part due to freeing up levy funds.
On Dec. 5, the Battle Ground City Council was scheduled to approve the final reading of next year’s budget, which totals roughly $69.3 million in expenses for all funds. The city’s general operating fund is budgeted at about $22.2 million, up from the $18.4 million that was budgeted for 2022.
The largest increase in general fund revenue came from taxes. It included more than $1 million in budgeted sales tax and $800,000 more in intergovermnmental revenues through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds compared to this year.
Those ARPA funds will go toward water and sewer projects in 2023, Battle Ground Finance Director Meagan Lowery said. The use of that federal funding for utility projects helps avoid large increases to taxpayers for those services. There are no increases to utility tax rates for city water, sewer and stormwater included in the 2023 budget, according to a city revenue forecast.
The city also saw an increase in revenues from tax measures approved this year. The city’s transportation benefit district sales tax of .1% was approved by the city council and will result in about $807,000. The city will also receive a share of funding from Clark County’s .1% public safety sales tax approved by voters, which will bring in an estimated $375,000.
The share of the public safety sales tax funds will be used for city law enforcement, Lowery said. Prior discussions by the city council acknowledged the potential to supplant funds that were previously allocated for police with the incoming sales tax revenue, allowing the original funds to be used elsewhere.
The city’s law enforcement budget has grown to the point where sales tax funds can be used to support its expansion. The police budget increased by about $1 million in 2023 compared to this year, making up about 31% of the city’s overall general fund.
The 2023 budget includes a slight dip of about $16,000 into its general fund reserves, bringing it down to about $8.75 million. The reserves, which are essentially the city’s savings account, will still be about 57% more than what is required through city policy, according to budget documents.
The 2023 budget has about $14 million in state and federal grants for capital projects, with $9.9 million going toward transportation projects.
The latest phase in the improvement of the state Route 502/503 intersection is likely the biggest project reflected in the 2023 budget, Battle Ground Public Works Director Mark Herceg said. That phase will add right turn lanes in directions that are currently lacking them. It also includes dual left turn lanes on northbound and southbound state Route 503.
Herceg said there was a holdup on the project because of equipment acquisition, but he said residents will likely see construction start early next year.
Other projects include improvements to Eaton Boulevard between state Route 503 and Southwest 20th Avenue as well as Southeast Grace Avenue between Main Street and Southeast Rasmussen Boulevard. Herceg said the design for the projects is ongoing. The city plans to begin purchasing the needed rights of way in 2023.
Herceg also mentioned improvement projects at Kiwanis and Mac McConnell parks, though transportation projects remain the dominant focus. A heavy focus on road projects is par for the course when it comes to capital projects in the city, Herceg said.
“I’ve been here almost 20 years and it’s almost always transportation that’s at the top (of the list),” Herceg said.
The city council approved the 1% increase allowed annually to the city’s property tax levy. That increase is expected to put the levy rate at $1.07 per $1,000 of assessed value, lower than the $1.22 per $1,000 currently levied.
Also adding about $203,000 to the city’s property tax levy is $166.3 million in assessed value from new construction in 2022, which Lowery said is the biggest single-year increase the city has experienced. The increase follows a trend the city has seen since 2019, though increasing mortgage rates have shown somewhat of a slowing impact on new development.
The 2023 budget features funding for four new full-time positions, which include a long-range planner, a streets maintenance worker, a lead parks maintenance worker and a parking code compliance officer.
Lowery said the city had two compliance officers prior to the Great Recession. The city wanted to return to pre-recession staffing levels before the pandemic hit, though the uncertainty put that on hold until now.
“As we’re continuing to grow and the needs of the city continue to increase, we are wanting to increase our service levels, and we’re at a point in time in which we are able to do that,” Lowery said.
The city has added back staff at a staggered pace in order to avoid a sudden impact on the budget that could exacerbate issues in a potential economic downturn.
The staffing increase is supported by the city’s annexation into Clark County Fire District 3, which voters approved in early 2020. The annexation provides additional revenue for the city as residents pay property tax directly to the fire district, whereas previously fire protection was provided through a contract using up most of the city’s own tax levy.
Lowery acknowledged the city’s current financial standing is due in large part to voters who approved the fire district annexation.
“If you compare it to four years ago, 100% we are in a better position,” Lowery said.