La Center budget keeps full police funding on the books


La Center’s budget for next year still includes expenses for a fully-staffed police department, but a long-term contract with a neighboring police force is still in the works.

During its Nov. 16 meeting, the La Center City Council approved its 2023 budget. The total expenses across all funds is slightly more than $11 million, down from about $11.8 million for 2022.

City senior accountant Riley Barbera said 2023’s capital budget was lower than this year, which accounted for the decrease. Only about $3.5 million was budgeted on capital projects, compared to the roughly $4 million budgeted for 2022.

“That capital projects list that we have really varies every year,” Barbera said. 

He said about 54% of the roughly $3.5 million of this year’s budget will be grant-funded. Much of the projects involve infrastructure investments, like the design of a pedestrian path along Pacific Highway, the completion of permitting and right-of-way acquisition for replacement of the Brezee Creek culvert and widening of East Fourth Street, as well as placement of a community welcome sign at the Interstate 5 junction, according to a staff report.

Other capital projects for 2023 include renovation of the La Center Community Center, the design of horizontal curve warning signs and work on “Planned Action Areas” downtown and at Timmen Landing. Those area plans are intended to increase development, the staff report stated.

The city also wasn’t expecting the vehicle purchases it completed in 2022’s budget, which made up about $228,000 of expenses that year. The budget had less in school impact fees for new construction, though those funds go directly to the La Center School District after they are collected by the city.

Budgeted spending in the city’s general fund for 2023 is set for $4.8 million, down from $5.1 million in 2022. Next year’s budget includes a drop of about $684,000 from the city’s general fund reserves. 

Barbera said that was due to an ongoing policy of having the funds for a fully-staffed police department. That was also the case last year and made up $2.1 million of the 2022 budget. Only about $700,000 is expected to be spent on police services through the end of the year, with whatever is left from the budget remaining in city funds, Barbera said.

Barbera said La Center is in discussions with Ridgefield about a contract for police services though nothing has been approved yet. The city was initially in talks with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which has experienced its own staffing issues. That likely means the additional jurisdiction would be infeasible.

“The budget is built based on our policy of having that fully-staffed police department, even though we know that it’s not necessarily going to happen,” Barbera said.

The budget includes the addition of a full-time public works supervisor. That position would bring the city’s total staff to 29 full-time equivalent positions.

Gambling tax from the city’s card rooms is budgeted at $1,560,000, up from the $1.2 million budgeted for 2022. This year’s revenues from the tax have already exceeded the budget, with about $1.3 million brought in already, according to the budget presentation given to the council.

Revenues from card rooms are now in about the same range as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, but are still lower than what they were before ilani opened across the interstate.

The city council voted to take a 1% increase to its property tax levy rate, which results in close to $6,000 more collected for a total levy of about $640,000 in 2023. Even with the increase, La Center’s property tax levy rate saw a drop from about 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to roughly 85 cents per $1,000, due to appreciation and new construction in the city.

Appreciation on existing property increased by 15%, more than twice the 6.7% increase last year. New construction added about $38 million to the city’s total assessed value, lower than the roughly $50 million seen in 2021.