Town officials expect economic growth in 2020
The Twisp Town Council on Dec. 10 approved a budget for 2020 that anticipates growing revenues and accounts for the construction of a new town hall.
The council also boosted the pay scale for most town employees, but it wasn’t clear if anyone was getting raises next year.
The biggest changes to Twisp’s salary schedule were in the Police Department. The police chief’s salary range went from a minimum of $24.42 and a maximum of $35 per hour, to a range of $32 to $45 per hour.
Police officers in 2019 could be paid as little as $18 an hour or as much as $28. Next year, the minimum a Twisp police officer can be paid will be $23 an hour, with an upper limit of $35.
The 2020 budget appears to make room for raises for police staff. The department’s budget is increasing 12 percent next year. However, Town Clerk/Treasurer Randy Kilmer said Monday (Dec. 16) that pay rates for town employees in 2020 had not been set yet.
In her 2020 budget message, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the town needed to increase its pay scale to remain competitive and retain quality staff.
“As the national shortage of good and qualified law enforcement continues to grow, small communities must remain competitive, not only with fair compensation but with the facility and resources necessary to promote a safe and healthy work environment,” Ing-Moody wrote.
Hence the new town hall, which officials are calling the Twisp Civic Building and Emergency Operations Center. The 2020 budget includes $3.2 million for the building’s construction.
Money for the Civic Center is coming from grants and a $1.29 million appropriation from the state Legislature.
The new building will include administrative offices and meeting spaces. Ing-Moody has emphasized the importance of the Emergency Operations Center, which is intended to improve coordination among responding agencies during wildfires.
The general fund budget, which doesn’t include the Civic Building but rather covers the day-to-day operations of the town, is built on anticipated growth in property and sales tax revenues. Town officials projected a 5% increase in sales tax income in 2020 compared to 2019, and a 3% increase in property tax.
Council members in November voted for a 1% increase to the property tax. Any additional increase would come from new construction.
“Property tax revenues will show signs of moderate growth in the new year as new property construction and purchases will mean an increase in the number of homes within town, especially in response to increasing demand for housing availability and affordability,” Ing-Moody wrote in her budget message.
The mayor added that sales tax revenue should increase with the anticipated growth of businesses that were recently established in town.
Combined, sales and property taxes account for 38 percent of the town’s general fund income.
The 2020 general fund budget totals $1.064 million, $7,000 smaller than last year’s budget. Even so, the town is planning to spend more money next year; the budget shows the town spending about $44,000 of its reserves in 2020.
The 2020 budget was developed over several weeks in private meetings between the mayor, department heads, and council members Hans Smith and Mark Easton. The council provided opportunities for public input at budget hearings held Nov. 12 and 26, although details of the proposed budget were not available at that time. No members of the public spoke at the budget hearings.
In other business last week, the Twisp council continued a discussion begun on Nov. 12, about whether to require that dogs be kept on leash in public. The discussion started after town officials had fielded several complaints this year about off-leash dogs.
The council did not come to a decision on Dec. 10. Council member Smith said in an interview after the meeting the council was forming a subcommittee to research the issue further.
The council will consider whether to increase the fine for failure to obtain a dog license within 15 days of bringing the animal into town, Smith said. Currently, a first citation for failure to license carries a penalty of $50, and a second offense is $150.
The only public comments the town has received so far on the issue have been in support of a leash law, Smith said.
Mark and Leone Edson, town residents and business owners who regularly attend council meetings, have spoken in favor of a leash law more than once.
“We need to have a leash law,” Mark Edson said on Nov. 12. “If you’re going to have an animal, you need to take responsibility for it.”
The Twisp Council usually meets twice a month but will not hold a second meeting in December, due to the holidays. Its next meeting is Jan. 14.