MOSES LAKE – Moses Lake may end services and raise rates to deal with an estimated $1.3 million budget shortfall.
The city is considering closing the Larson Recreation Center, the ice skating rink, ending the summer concert series and raising ambulance fees to cover the loss.
City officials do not expect to receive as much property taxes from REC Silicon after a decision by the Grant County Board of Equalization. The board cut the value of REC’s property by about two-thirds, lowering the value from $700 million to $250 million.
The announcement of the possible closures brought several community members to the meeting asking if they could do anything to prevent them.
The company has been challenging the property value listed by the assessor for the past five years.
The county and the company settled three years of the dispute last year. The state Board of Tax Appeals is deciding on the fourth year and this year the company took its appeal to the county Board of Equalization.
REC representatives argued the property was worth $115 million after the assessor appraised it at $700 million.
The board’s decision means the company received a property tax refund of $1.2 million and won’t have to pay $6.1 million in taxes for this year.
The reduction means Moses Lake will not receive roughly $1.3 million.
The most recent budget cut follows a cut last year to make up for a predicted $2.3 million budget shortfall.
City Manager Joe Gavinski stated in a letter the city will need to replace the lost revenue, and proposed saving roughly $304,000 by closing the ice rink, the Larson Recreation Center, the BMX track and ending the summer concert series.
He also suggested moving money from street reconstruction and the ambulance service back to the general fund. The move would mean adding a $2.50 monthly charge to the ambulance fee. Moving the money makes up $760,000 of the shortfall.
The remaining money could be made up because of increases in other sources of revenue.
“This was not a letter I wished to do,” Gavinski said. “Unfortunately, with the situation we find ourselves in it has to be done.”
The city doesn’t have enough money saved to cover the amount it’s losing, he said.
Chuck Perry, Rob Dahlgren, Debbie Talbot and Jon Smith all asked the city for ways to maintain the recreation options in the city.
“I think the city needs to do certain things to support fire protection, police protection, take care of the roads and a whole lot of safety issues,” Perry said. “I think recreation is part of that. I think the parks and recreation in Moses Lake is second to none in the state … I think it would be really short-sighted to eliminate a lot of that.”
Talbot, who was representing the Moses Lake Youth Hockey Association, said the ice skating rink attracts teams and children from across the state to the city. She asked the city to find a way to keep it open.
“There is only one other rink that is outside and that’s in Spokane,” she said. “We have one of the top rinks in the hockey association. People love coming here. They will stand out there when it’s minus 10 degrees cheering on their kids.”
She would be willing to volunteer more time to keep the rink open.
“We don’t want our kids getting into trouble. We don’t want them causing problems,” Talbot said. “We just ask … look at every avenue.”
Councilmember Karen Liebrecht asked if it was possible to raise prices at the rink as a way to keep it open.
Talbot said she would support a fee for skating at the rink.
Jon Smith said he was willing to help find a way to keep the recreation option in Moses Lake.
“I don’t think anyone here is trying to throw children under the bus, or say that these programs aren’t important,” he said. “I’m ready to go to work. What can we do as citizens to keep things running?”
Councilmember Todd Voth supported maintaining the city’s ambulance service with a fee increase.
“Possibly eliminating 17 positions in our fire department … would be detriment to our community,” he said. “I’m never in favor of arbitrarily raising fees for citizens, but it looks like, to me, that would be our only option.”
The council agreed to move the money from the street repair and reconstruction budget to pay for the shortfall.