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The City of Longview in 2019 spent about $500,000 less than it had budgeted, putting the city in a better position with its reserves going into 2020, City Manager Kurt Sacha said in his third quarter financial review Thursday night during the City Council meeting.

Expenditures in 2019 ($39.4 million) are still expected to exceed revenue, but the ending fund balance will be nearly 27%.

“Under that scenario, the council provides for a status quo budget,” Sacha said, meaning the city is able to maintain its budgeted services.

However, in the long term, the council won’t be able to sustain the same type of spending, he said.

Savings throughout the year are largely tied to unfilled positions, Sacha said. When people retire or leave the city, there is some savings on salaries and benefits during the time when the city is working to fill those positions. The city has had some high-level positions vacant for nearly two years now, including assistant city manager and finance director.

As of September, projected revenue from property taxes was $9.4 million, which was a 1.6% increase over 2018, Sacha said.

Sales tax revenue was projected to be $9.12 million, which is a 1.5% increase over 2018. While the modest increase is still good, Sacha said, it’s much slower growth than in other recent years, such as 2018 when there was a 9% increase in sales tax revenue.

When asked why that could be, Sacha pointed to possible correlations related to fewer large construction projects and a downward trend in city permit applications.

Longview resident Nick Wells thanked the council and staff for underspending projections.

“As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. I look forward to 2020 and underspending even more so we can stop dipping into our funds,” he said. “While the economy is good, let’s rejoice in it. But if we can drop our spending even more, we should.”

Also on Thursday, the council adopted a “Complete Streets” ordinance after more than a year of coaxing from Dave Fine and other active transportation advocates.

“Thanks to you guys for listening to me. It took some time, but not too much time,” Fine said Thursday night. “You’re going to find great benefits to this. And you’re going to regret that it took so long.”

A complete streets policy includes streets that are designed not only for motorists, but also pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.

The council unanimously voted to adopt the ordinance. Mayor Don Jensen and Councilman Steve Moon were excused.

“I’d like to thank Mr. Fine publicly,” Councilman Mike Wallin said before the vote. “He’s been very persistent in encouraging the council to follow up with this.”

Also during the meeting, Councilman Scott Vydra, who is a member of the ad hoc committee on homelessness, said First Christian Church received its final approval from the city to open a temporary shelter the next time there is a severe weather event.

In other business, the council:

  • Accepted as complete an improvement project on Third and 30th avenues.
  • Adopted the updated Highlands Revitalization Plan.
  • Heard a presentation and held a public hearing on revenue sources for 2020.
  • The next workshop, regarding utility rates, begins at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 and the next regular meeting will be Nov. 21. The Nov. 28 meeting has been canceled to accommodate the Thanksgiving holiday.

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