La Center’s 2018 budget approved

City council members vote unanimously to approve next year’s budget

LA CENTER — After several months of planning and a number of meetings of the city council and public forums, members of the La Center City Council voted unanimously to approve the city’s 2018 budget.

The past year was marked with financial uncertainty for La Center, as one of its three remaining cardrooms closed in March, and the remaining cardrooms faced competition from the ilani casino that opened in April.

Members of the La Center City Council unanimously voted to approve the 2018 budget for the city at Wednesday’s council meeting. Photo by Alex Peru
Members of the La Center City Council unanimously voted to approve the 2018 budget for the city at Wednesday’s council meeting. Photo by Alex Peru

During a brief discussion at Wednesday’s city council meeting, Finance Director Suzanne Levis explained some of the highlights of the budget.

The budget includes full funding for an additional police officer position in La Center. It also funds two seasonal or part-time maintenance workers, rather than a single full-time worker.

Also included is funding for a plan for a new stormwater facility, as well as for economic development and marketing for lands available for development at La Center’s I-5 junction.

Levis also explained that the budget funds a review of city facilities with the goal of consolidating staff offices into one facility.

The budget also includes an initial payment of $200,000 from the sewer utility into the general fund to begin repaying loans provided from the general fund.

Levis also pointed out that no change had been made to La Center’s monthly sewer rate, and that no changes have been made in four years.

In a written address accompanying the budget, Mayor Greg Thornton outlined some of the major fiscal issues facing La Center, and how the adopted budget will address them.

For many years, the primary source of revenue for La Center has been revenue from gambling taxes on cardrooms located in the city. Originally totaling four establishments, only two remain in business at the end of 2017. Approximately 55 percent of the general fund revenue came from gambling taxes in 2017.

Despite the closure of one cardroom in March and the opening of the ilani casino in April, Thornton wrote that gambling tax revenues are higher than projected, and there will be a general fund surplus of over $300,000 for the 2017 fiscal year.

Gambling tax revenues, however, are exhibiting a downward trend. The projected gambling revenue for 2018 is expected to be $1.6 million, which is an increased estimate from last year. However, this is still $1.5 million less than the revenue received from gambling taxes in 2016. Nonetheless, the gambling tax revenues will make up 46 percent of the budget for 2018.

According to Thornton’s report, the city plans to work with the cardrooms to find a “win-win tax structure that will retain hundreds of jobs, help a clean industry thrive and preserve a significant revenue source for City services.”

Funding was provided for a community director position to accommodate development and to help market the city’s “shovel ready” land in the city and at the I-5 junction.

The 2018 budget allocates $3,674,734 for the general fund: $573,722 was allocated to finance; $76,326 was allocated to legislative funding; $1,678,268 was allocated for the city police; $298,434 was allocated to planning; public works will receive $638,762 and parks will receive $409,221.

During the council’s hearing, council members Joe Valenzuela and Randy Williams praised city staff and the budget committee for their work on the 2018 budget. Valenzuela expressed his support for the proposed budget, and said that crafting it had been a “long, arduous process.”

La Center resident Larry Lewton was the only citizen to testify during public comments, and urged the council to accept the budget proposal. He commended Levis for her work in the process, saying “the finance director has bent over backwards” to help craft a satisfactory budget.

The city council members voted unanimously to approve the 2018 budget.

In comments made after the council meeting, Thornton said that the city would continue to work with the cardrooms to create a mutually beneficial relationship between the city and the establishments. He said that La Center would have an “ongoing dialogue” to address the declining gambling tax revenues, and that the city would “continue to work with them” on the issue.

The full text of the 2018 budget is available online here. A summary of the budget can be found here.

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