Working Smarter, Not Harder
Liberty Lake Neighbors -
We have important work underway in Liberty Lake, and I'm asking for your support to continue in my role as your Mayor.
We ALL love Liberty Lake. I've been working hard for over 13 1/2 years (11 years on Council and now as Mayor since January 2021) to keep this a special place to live and raise a family. It's not always easy. Growth management considerations sometimes limit what we can do at the local level, so I've spent my time working for you, learning how to use the tools we're given to protect what matters most in Liberty Lake.
My priorities are your priorities: to maintain superior public safety; to make sure we use our resources sustainably and prudently; to have a vibrant local economy that helps diversify our tax base and ease the tax burden on residents; to make sure our infrastructure keeps up with growth; to keep Liberty Lake safe; and to find more ways to work together and share costs with nearby communities.
I respectfully ask for your vote this November!
LIST OF ISSUES
The number one priority in our City, not only for me, but for our residents, visitors, and businesses is Public Safety.
One of the reasons behind the City's incorporation in 2001 was to improve police coverage and responsiveness. Liberty Lake is fortunate to have had it's own police department since the City was first formed over 20 years ago.
The nature and frequency of interactions between the public and officers heavily shape residents' opinions about the quality of law enforcement.
Chief Simmons and the entire department are proponents of Community Oriented Policing (COP). COP is not "hug a thug". It does not seek to turn police work into social work. In fact, COP is more serious about reducing crime and disorder than the superficial brand of incident-oriented "911 policing" that most departments have been doing for the past few decades.
LLPD provides the school resource officer for Selkirk Middle School and Ridgeline High School; you will see our officers engaging with visitors at the Farmer's Market; and you see them active in the elementary schools. They are consistently interacting with our public in a positive way instead of just waiting for those 911 calls to come in.
The 2023 budget included a sizeable increase in the salary schedule for our officers. The last contract was 6 years ago and the pay scales were significantly out of proportion with those agencies that we compete with for recruiting. The council unanimously supported the new, 3-year contract and the increases that came with it. We are now in a more competitive situation to recruit the best of the best to work for the LLPD as we continue to grow.
Hiring new officers in the recent climate has not been easy, but we continue to recruit and hire top talent from around the country. While we have been short staffed for a while due to illness, maternity leave, injuries, and attrition, and continue to have more and more regulations put on the PD, I am immensely proud of what the LLPD has accomplished and I hope you are too.
Emphasis patrols for vehicle prowls and speeding continue, and the team is making progress in reducing those issues. We all need to be vigilant, though, and look out for each other in the meantime.
I look forward to continuing discussions with the Chief and residents to bring back neighborhood watch groups and to make better use of SCOPE.
What can I personally do to help address citizens' concerns?
I will continue to be an active member of the community to keep consistent and transparent dialogue going with our residents. Whether through social media, personal meetings, neighborhood meetings, or by continuing my weekend presence at the Farmer's Market in the summer, people will know what is going on and will know that their concerns are being listened to.
Having spent almost every Saturday from mid-May through mid-October at the Market, not only have I been able to keep citizens informed, but I have learned a lot myself. Every citizen has a different view of our community and it is the feedback from those views that help drive a lot of what the City does.
In 2022, the Community Engagement Commission met for the first time and started to help out at the Farmer's Market. I hired the City's first Communications Specialist who has streamlined our social media presence, updated the City website, and debuted the City Podcast in April 2023.
Earlier this year, the council also approved a contract with Zen City - a community engagement software to improve feedback to/from the community.
The hardest part of Community Engagement is delivering news that people don't want to hear. I will always be up front with people - no one likes surprises, especially when they are bad. My goal is to have consistent dialogue so our residents know what to expect and why.
Efficient Use of Resources
The City of Liberty Lake was very fortunate to have come through COVID in 2020 & 2021 with no financial impact. In fact, sales tax revenues were higher than ever.
For too many years, the City had operated with too few staff. Staff was overloaded and tasked with work that was well beyond the scope of their expertise. When employees are overloaded, mistakes happen, which in turn cost the City - and the residents - money both in hard costs but in lack of efficiencies.
Starting in late 2020 under former Mayor Brickner, and continuing into 2021 through 2023 under my direction, we have made great strides in making our staff more efficient.
Our former finance director was shouldering not only his finance responsibilities, but he was also managing human resources and information technology. In January 2021, the City's first ever Human Resources Manager came on board. This puts activities such as recruiting, hiring, onboarding, benefits, and updating the personnel manual in the hands of the correct position.
The City had fallen way behind the curve in IT infrastructure over the years. Our first IT Technician was hired in 2020 which moved those related responsibilities to someone proficient in those tasks. With my support (and professional experience working for an IT company) and with Executech as a partner, he led the charge to move our email to the cloud. We are currently working on our long term strategic plan for our IT structure including the possibility of moving everything to the Cloud and off our our aging equipment at the police department. This will involve some upfront capital investment which most likely can be paid with by the American Rescue Plan money we received. In the end, the City will be much better protected against hackers and ransomware attacks and will have a disaster recovery plan in place.
When I took over in 2021, there were numerous projects that were going to have to move to 2022 due to lack of manpower to manage projects like adding more flashing pedestrian crossing beacons on our safe routes to schools. The council recognized the need for an additional project manager so critical projects didn't have to be moved out. The City had the funds for these projects, but not enough staff to manage them. Mid-2021, our first project manager was hired, and he hit the ground running.
By the end of 2021, we also brought on a full time accounting tech to take over payroll, invoices, and purchasing. This frees up our Treasurer to focus on audits and strategic activity, and it frees up the PD and the operations and maintenance crews from having to spend their time on getting quotes and purchase orders approved.
Traffic is the first issue that everyone associates with growth - and Liberty Lake is growing fast. We can't slow down the growth, but we can plan for and manage the infrastructure needed to handle the traffic that comes with it.
Liberty Lake is fortunate that in 1996, developers stepped up and launched the Harvard Road Mitigation plan as a way for developers to offset the impact of new construction in areas like traffic and utilities. This is basically a fee paid to the City based on a study of the impacts of development or the delivery of services and must be used for capital facilities/infrastructure needed due to growth.
The City has been very successful in using this money as matching funds for infrastructure projects such as roundabouts, traffic signals, street rebuilding, etc. The Transportation Improvement Board, which is funded by gas taxes, has awarded numerous grants to the City that, on average, provided over 70% of the funding for those projects.
For 2021, this includes the following, among other projects
$7.8M for widening the Harvard Road bridge and construction of the Kramer Road Overpass
$1.1M in grant-funded projects - Ridgeline High School Traffic Signal (complete), Legacy Ridge Traffic Signal, and the Stormwater Master Plan
$140K in additional Operational Improvements - solar-powered School Zone Signs and Smart Signal Control
Sidewalk and improved pedestrian crossings
The City also uses money from tax-increment financing (TIF) and Local Infrastructure Financing Tools (LIFT) funds that are collected from sales and property taxes in the area north of I-90. The City can use tax revenue generated by private investment to pay for infrastructure improvements. Funds up to $1M per year are matched 100% by the State
Property taxes are a hot issue due to the increased valuation of properties not only in Liberty Lake, but region wide.
Did you know that the Liberty Lake portion of the property tax rate has gone down every year since 2013? The rate in 2013 was $1.82/$1K versus $0.96/$1K in 2023. The increases in the total property tax billed can mostly be attributed to the artificially inflated values of our homes.
The City's 2021 Proposed Operating Revenue is estimated at $8,845,775. Property Tax makes up 27% ($2.4M) of that, while Sales Tax makes up a much larger portion - 40% (3.5M)
On the 2021 Expenditures side, by ordinance, the Library gets the first 23% of property tax ($600K for 2021). The balance of $1.8M goes to Law Enforcement but is not enough to cover the $2.9M budgeted expense.
So, with property tax funding the Library, and about 62% of Public Safety, Sales Tax makes up the rest. This is where attracting high sales tax value projects to Liberty Lake comes in.
A company like Western States Cat (that opened in November 2022) has a three fold impact to the City's revenues: additional sales tax during the building phase for materials, ongoing additional sales tax for the sale/lease/repair of equipment, and additional property tax revenue to the City due to the improved value of that formerly vacant property.
The commercial development aids in alleviating the burden of property tax on our residents.
I just received a market update for 99019 (unfortunately this includes homes outside of the city limits - by the lake - and excludes the River District since 99016 is shared with Spokane Valley).
Regardless, consider this:
2020 "typical home value" was $394,919. Liberty Lake Tax rate was $1.4697/$1K valuation. Property tax received from the "typical" home in 2020 was $580.41/year ($48.37/month)
2021 "typical home value" is $444,124. Liberty Lake Tax rate is $1.3554/$1K valuation. Property tax received from the "typical" home in 2021 will be $601.97/year ($50.16/month)
2023 "typical home value" is $525,000. At $0.96/$K valuation, that translates to $504/year for the average home
That $504 pays for the Library and for part of the PD, not buildings, parks, streets, operations, etc.
Fiscal responsibility can mean different things to different people. Is it just managing debt while adopting fiscal restraint and planning for the future? Is it a matter of creating, optimizing, and maintaining a balanced budget?
In a governmental context, a pledge of fiscal responsibility is a government's promise that it will judiciously spend, earn, and generate funds without putting an undue burden on its citizens.
By law, we must maintain a balanced budget. When our government is fiscally irresponsible, we don't function efficiently. This idea of efficiency in everything we do is something I prioritize in everything I do both in my personal, professional, and Mayoral roles. (see the "Work Smarter, not Harder" section of my blog). The more efficient we are, the less mistakes are made, which means savings for you, the tax payer.
The budget process is fully transparent to the public. Copies are available online and there are many meetings and public hearings for the citizens of our city to provide input and ask questions.
With hard work of past and present Mayors and Councilmembers, Liberty Lake's only debt is for the Trailhead Clubhouse bond. There was no increase in taxes to pay for this bond. The revenue from the golf course operations is slated to pay the annual bond payments. We also identified funds from Real Estate Excise taxes as a source to pay the bond off early. Finally, we have more cash in our various reserve funds than required by statue.
Since 2013, the property tax rate has declined. Unfortunately, that hasn't translated to a reduced amount paid due to rapidly increasing home values. (See Property Tax section).
I urge all of our citizens to go through the budget after it is first presented in mid-October. PLEASE, ask questions, weigh in on issues, let your voice be heard.
I am happy to meet with anyone at (almost) any time to help someone understand the meat and potatoes that make up the budget!