By Jack Mayne 
The SeaTac City Council unanimously approved the 2019-2020 biennial budget of $220.9 million with an estimated ending fund balance in 2020 of $78.3 million, which retains the city’s current service level. The current budget will have a reserve of $25 million to carry over to the new biennium.
The budget contains no increase in its property tax levy which Finance Director Gwen Pilo (pictured above) said the city decided again not to increase.
Councilmembers lauded the city staff for its hard work controlling budget excesses.
Could have increased tax
Legally it could increase the tax up to 1 percent. Councilmember Rick Forschler asked if any other city did not take the increase, Pilo said “I am not aware” of any other city in the county that had a policy to not take the tax increase.
Councilmember Clyde Hill said it was good not to take the 1 percent increase, but noted that expenses are raising for the city and suggested the “void is getting larger and larger,” likely making an increase necessary in the future.
Pilo said the city is banking the capacity so “if we were to find ourselves in a bind, we could take that.”
Property taxes could decrease
Any actual decrease to property owners is dependent upon the actual valuation of their property, she said.
Pilo said the levy will produce $17,114,888 based on a rate of $2.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, “a zero percent increase.” The actual levy amount will be determined after the county assessor certifies SeaTac’s assessed valuation in December.
Pilo said the assessed valuation rate from King County set SeaTac at $6.6 billion, an 8 percent increase over the 2018 rate. She said that was a preliminary rate not including the “airplanes at the airport” which the state provides to the city later.
That means the city levy rate is $2.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a decrease of about $17 per $100,000 of property tax valuation “so that is a decrease to our property owners.”
‘A very long road’
Councilmember Peter Kwon said he wanted to point out the soundness of the budget process the current council has maintained.
The balanced and maintained SeaTac tax level has been “a real struggle, a very long road to get here,” said Kwon.
“Over the last three years, I have watched other cities in our area raising taxes, imposing new taxes in order to cover shortfalls in their budgets,” Kwon said. “Meanwhile, SeaTac hasn’t and we’ve also actually eliminated the utility tax, promoted economic development and returned money to the public to improve parks, hire more cops, install sidewalks, all of that. The real credit for this is due to our staff, our city manager, our finance director, our department heads. They really did all of the work. Over the last three years I have watched things change so I wanted to make sure that the recognition is that is very well deserved is recognized here.
“I wanted to thank all of you,” Kwon added. “All staff for stepping up to the plate and making this happen. This is just nothing short of a miraculous recovery for a small city like SeaTac. When we explain this to other cities, they just don’t believe it. I think we all should be really proud of this.”
Kwon’s comments were supported by the other councilmembers, plus a comment from newly appointed Councilmember Amina Ahmed, “healthy budgets leads to healthy services.”
City Manager Joe Scorcio said “undoing decades of OK budgeting to put a very aggressive performance based budget in place … that is the thing for the next two years to keep your eye on.”
The Council also passed by unanimous voice vote an updated schedule of license, permit and other fees for city services, plus updated other basic finance policies.
The Council approved a request by City Manager Joe Scorcio to refer study of a potential convention center to the Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, an issue being pushed by City Councilmember Rick Forschler. Scorcio said the proposed study would cost up to $50,000, the level up to which he can approve expenditures. He said the study should be able to clarify wether a convention center would be feasible in SeaTac.
“We don’t know whether or not it’s worth pursuing until we can get a sense from the market whether or not it’s viable here,” Scorcio said. “This will get us the initial analysis by people who know the business. I think it is a critical first step if we want to ask the question. Otherwise we are just guessing.”
Scorcio said SeaTac has a “very unique physical area” with all of the hotels and three light rail stations but the study would not be site specific. “If the market is not there, it doesn’t matter where it’s located.”
Councilmember Clyde Hill asked whether the study would recommend a site for such a facility and Scorcio said the city isn’t trying to focus on specific sites or site criteria. He said the study can show if “we are way off base.” He said he favors a study.
“We’re really talking about is the market in SeaTac,” but only if there is sufficient demand here considering the city has the hotels, the airport, the transportation.
Councilmember Joel Wachtel said he generally supported a potential convention center.
“My caveat is that I don’t want the building of this project to impact the city budget one iota,” he said.
Councilmember Pam Fernald said she has basic questions, “why, who wants it? Do the citizens want it? Do the businesses want it? Somebody asking us to do it? Is there a need? That is what I want to know.”
The Council was introduced by City Manager Joe Scorcio to two new employees in the community and economic development, permit coordinator Lisa Rawls and plans examiner Joseph Szpek.