In 2019, Sammamish made headlines when it was named the city with the highest median income in the United States. By 2028, the City of Sammamish is projected to run a $5 million negative balance in its general fund.
This dichotomy of a wealthy city not being able to pay its municipal bills was presented to the Sammamish City Council on Sept. 19, along with the final report by the City’s Fiscal Sustainability Taskforce – a group made up of city officials, business owners, and community members.
Despite a long-standing awareness by the council of a looming budget gap dating back to 2016, the response had previously been limited to property tax increases. In their review, the task force found the primary factors that led to the escalating fiscal gap were inadequate growth of property taxes, insufficient revenue expansion, and funding deficiency. To address these issues, the task force recommended a two-prong approach.
First, to save up to $1 million per year, the task force outlined a three-year plan, starting in 2025, to find cost savings while aiming to maintain services levels to the fullest extent possible.
Their second proposal was to levy a 6% utility tax, starting in 2026, that will generate $11 million per year. The combination of these measures is projected to yield approximately $12 million annually by 2028.
One other strategy, to implement a Metropolitan Park District through an additional property tax levy, would raise another $5 million per year starting in 2031.
Taken together, these three strategies would effectively eliminate the fiscal gap through 2035, replenish the city’s reserves, and provide additional fiscal capacity to invest in infrastructure projects, according to the task force report.
The city’s finances has been a hot topic among candidates for this year’s city council election. Some candidates want to diversify Sammamish’s revenue sources away from property taxes, while others want to make the City’s current operations more efficient.
For instance, Roisin O’Farrell wants to create a Sammamish business directory so that more residents can shop at local businesses, thereby keeping sales tax revenue within the city.
“By providing more commercial space for such businesses, the city can keep more of the sales taxes that residents already pay here in the city instead of going to other cities,” Stuart said in her interview with the Sammamish Independent.
Sid Gupta similarly believes that diversification of Sammamish’s revenue sources will ease the current overreliance on property taxes. Uma Coimbature suggests boosting Sammamish’s appeal as a tourism destination to increase the city’s economic vitality.
Amato, in his interview, said he wants better prioritization of City spending and performance-based budgets. He listed public safety, infrastructure, and services for seniors and youth as the priorities that he would want the City to focus on.
“I will ensure expenses are tracked to outcomes so we know when programs are working and deserve continued funding, falling behind and need reform, or failing and must be cut,” Amato said on his campaign website.
Randolph, who describes herself as fiscally conservative, indicated that she views raising taxes as the last resort.
“I would like for us to look at synergies within our budget processing. We can find ways for [public works] teams to work together, to be able to find ways to optimize some of the expenses,” Randolph said.
With the work of the Fiscal Sustainability Taskforce completed, Sammamish is only starting the process of addressing its looming budget gap. The ultimate direction the City takes, whether to diversify and grow its revenue sources, or reduce the budget, will be decided by voters on Nov. 7.
Correction: This article originally stated the City will have a “$5 million budget deficit” by 2028, which was not accurate. We have changed this to “$5 million negative balance in its general fund” to reflect estimates that the City will have a negative general fund balance by 2028.