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Langley's budget tight, with few extras

Like many of the people it serves, the city of Langley doesn't expect to make much more money next year than it did in 2002.

With tax revenues expected to be about $563,000 in 2003, city staff and elected officials will not be planning much in the way of extras as they work to pass a budget during the next month. A preliminary draft of the coming year's finances shows a general fund budget that is barely budging on a .17 percent increase and a total budget of $3.924 million that is only a bit healthier, with a 2 percent increase over 2002.

Running through the numbers for the benefit of the Langley City Council Wednesday night, Langley clerk-treasurer Debbie Mahler said the budget was difficult to balance, due to revenue losses in the aftermath of a number of voter tax initiatives and what she sees as a continuing trend of low discretionary consumer spending.

Next year, Langley property owners will pay only about $3,600 more in taxes as a group, while those buying everything from art to groceries in city businesses are expected to shop at a rate less than 6 percent higher than this year.

At the same time, the city's police department will have $11,000 less to work with -- due in part to the expiration of a law enforcement grant -- and the city's planning department will take about $8,000 in cutbacks. None of the cuts to the police department are to personnel or salaries.

Wage gains for employees will be small this year and will be negated in part by an increase in the cost of health insurance. Mahler said city employees will receive a 2-percent cost-of-living increase and, if they qualify, a maximum of a 1-percent merit pay boost. Employee contributions to their health plans will rise by $240 for the year.

The only "wish list" items brought up Wednesday were requests for a 30-hour-per-week public works employee and a new pickup truck for that department. Public works director Rick Hill said the new employee would be "almost a wash," since pay for contracted work costs almost as much as having someone on staff.

Prior to the meeting, Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman said the budget is tight, and that future budgets will be even tighter if state law does not give cities avenues for raising more money.

The city council will approve a final draft of the operating budget either later this month or in November.

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