The cost of living in Mill Creek just became more expensive

Council approves EMS rate hike, votes 4-3 to postpone any boost in property tax
By Dan Aznoff | Dec 07, 2018


After an impassioned debate on the increased cost of living, members of the Mill Creek City Council voted unanimously to enact a 1 percent tax increase in the Emergency Medical Services levy for 2019 on top of a doubling of the rate the city charges property owners to maintain the Surface Water infrastructure.

The boost in the EMS levy is expected to cost the average homeowner less than $15 per year. The Surface Water rate will jump from $78 to $150 in the first of a series of increases approved to fund repairs to the aging underground water system.

The council approved the increases at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27. In light of the increased costs, the council voted 4-3 not to impose a regular increase in property taxes.

Councilmember Vince Cavaleri supported the additional EMS funding, but spoke out against raising property taxes.

The EMS increase will generate $16,802 in new revenue for the city. The total EMS levy collects $1.7 million to offset the $3.9 million annual cost of EMS services. The remaining 56 percent ($2.2 million) comes from the city’s general fund.

“This council action achieves one of the desired budget outcomes set by the City Council early this year to not levy a property tax increase,” Interim City Manager Bob Stowe said.

The increase in the Surface Water rate is the first boost in 20 years, according to the city. Additional funds were needed immediately to repay the loan from general funds used to pay for emergency repairs to the underground system under the Sweetwater development in October.

The council voted to raise the rate to $150 in 2019, followed by a boost to $175 in 2020 and $200 in 2021. The rate will continue to climb at 3 percent through 2026, based on the proposal approved by the council.

Mill Creek will continue to have one of the lower surface water rates in the Puget Sound, according to a spokesperson for the city. The highest rate in the region is $259.32. The current average is between $156 and $192 per year.

Stowe told the council the city also will need to issue debt of $2.8 million over the next five years to fund 50 miles (264,000 linear feet) of underground corrugated metal pipes. The funds would be used initially to inspect, evaluate and plan for repairs to the system.

“This council action achieves one of the desired budget outcomes set by the City Council early this year to not levy a property tax increase,” Stowe told the council.

Public Works and Development Services Director Gina Hortillosa emphasized the current rate would not be enough to cover normal operational costs.

“Further, to date we have only scoped the larger surface water pipes,” Hortillosa said. “We still don’t know the status of the smaller pipes, which encompass about 86 percent of our Surface Water infrastructure.”

She noted that survey and design work is already underway to prepare for infrastructure construction slated for 2019.

The city receives 18 percent of the property tax assessed on Mill Creek residents, which comprises 58 percent of its general fund revenue at $6.2 million annually. The remaining property tax dollars go to Everett School District (46 percent), State of Washington (24 percent), Snohomish County (7 percent), Sno-Isle Library (3 percent) and Community Transit (2 percent).

The decisions on EMS and property tax levies were the final revenue elements needed for the proposed 2019-2020 biennial budget ( budget). The council is scheduled to vote on the full budget later this month.

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