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October 18, 2012
Staff cuts, reduction of services accompany balanced budget
EDMONDS, Washington (STPNS) -- Nearly a year ago, Mayor Dave Earling spoke of the need to have a “blunt” conversation about the budget.
Much of that discussion is becoming reality with his proposed 2013 Edmonds City Budget, which Earling released Tuesday night to the Edmonds City Council.
“The impacts of the 2008 recession will be felt locally for years,” Earling said. “Fifty‐eight percent of our revenue comes from property tax and sales tax.
“Both revenue sources have been dramatically reduced and will be slow to recover.”
Earling warned that his budget is going to affect the way the city does business.
“The budget is balanced and maintains most of the services the residents of our community expect,” he said.
“However, while most of those services will be in place, we face compromises and dramatic reductions at every level and department of the city.”
He described “clever” ways the city used to balance its budget for the last few years: budget shifts, merging the fire department with Fire District 1, staff layoffs, reduced service levels, staff furloughs, hiring freezes and eliminating of out-of-state travel.
“We have worked long and hard to deliver a balanced and yet austere budget to the council and citizens,” Earling said. “I would ask the council to follow one principle: if you add to the budget, please either find new revenue or make adjustments by reducing some other portion of the budget.
“We have, quite simply, run out of clever.”
He listed a number of “mandatory cost increases,” including cost-of-living allowances, funding for fleet maintenance and operations, increasing incarceration fees, public defender fees and union contract pay.
And while the city expects revenues to increase by just over 0.5 percent for 2013, Earling said that increase will be “more than offset by a decline in the EMS levy, which is limited to 50 cents (per $1,000 assessed valuation) at a time when assessed values are still declining.”
“The net result for 2013 is a decline in total property tax revenue, the City’s largest revenue source,” he said.
Earling said he set a goal to cut $1.5 million from the General Fund budget. His objectives were:
1) across the board reductions in each department of 4.5 percent or about $850,000,
2) through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP), achieve savings of $400,000, and
3) savings in health care premium costs of $250,000
He said those objectives were met, and in some cases exceeded.
“Through retirements and other staff reductions (including the VSIP) across all departments we have lost and/or made reductions of 9.2 FTEs, which is about a 5 percent reduction in our workforce,” he said.
Earling warned though, that reducing the workforce by 5 percent will have a dramatic impact on the City’s ability to deliver the level of service the community is used to receiving.
“I have requested each director analyze how the reductions will impact the function of their department,” Earling said. “In some cases, the cuts will impact the internal workings of the staff, causing delays in completing projects.
“In other cases, portions of programs will be cut and not meet the expectations our citizens have grown to appreciate and expect.”
His budget lists a number of service level implications of staffing and other reductions that citizens should expect:
· Lower level of oversight and monitoring of sales tax reporting;
· Technology implementations will occur more slowly or be deferred indefinitely;
· Hardware and software updates will occur less frequently;
· Internet and social media adoptions will occur on a case-by-case basis and will have to fit into an overall IT work plan;
· Reduced level of advertising of City events and activities;
· Greater reliance on electronic forms of communication;
· Reduced travel and training for staff at all levels;
· Slower response times to service calls from the Public Works Department;
· Fewer staff and slower response times for development review and permit applications;
· Fewer updates to the Public Works website;
· Lower level of maintenance and custodial work in City facilities;
· Additional use of online advertising in Human Resources versus print advertising;
· Lower level of planting and watering of corner flowerbeds;
· Reduced mowing, watering and landscape maintenance, one of the outcomes of which will be dormant (brown) grass at parks;
· Reduction in trash pickup and restroom cleaning in parks;
· Reduced public hours at the Frances Anderson Center;
· Reduced number of summer concerts;
· Reduced summer beach patrols, closing of visitor station;
· Reduction in advertising activities for promotion and marketing of the City for tourism and development purposes;
· Increased reliance on electronic information and communication in the Development Services department to reduce printing costs;
· Reduction or elimination of passport services at the Court;
· Reduced number of hearings at the Court, resulting in longer hearings and wait times;
· Reorganization and reassignments within the Police Department, Information Services, Parks & Recreation, and Public Works because of retirements and VSIP program.
It should be noted that the Police Department reorganization will include the loss of the Street Crimes Unit.
If all that sounds like bad news, there are some bright spots in the budget, too.
“While there will be disappointment with some of the reductions, we are able to meet the needed adjustments and still maintain the core services without complete elimination of most programs,” Earling said.
“The staff has worked long and hard to make compromises to meet our goals.”
And Earling listed significant events that can bring vitality to the local economy.
“We have had great success in bringing new businesses to town,” he said. “Old Milltown has a new owner and has brought new energy to that project.
“The longtime eyesore, the Antique Mall, has new owners, and we will see dramatic improvement at that site.
“The Port District is proposing to redevelop Harbor Square. Westgate and Highway 99 continue to add new businesses.
“Our arts community continues to bring visitors to town and expand their creativity.
“All of this advancement is extremely important as those changes bring vitality to the community and more importantly, bring much needed tax revenue to the city.”
Earling also noted that city staff has been “very successful”
in seeking grants.
“We have approximately $14 million in grants either secured or in the pipeline,” he said. “This bright spot allows us to make dramatic improvements in Public Works and Parks and Recreation that we would otherwise not have the ability to fund.”
He also said that, for the moment, “property values appear to have firmed and our sales tax shows very modest improvement,” but warned “dramatic improvement to reach the level prior to the 2008 national financial debacle is years away.”
Earling noted that even with the bright spots, “unless we as a community face the harsh reality of our financial challenges, we will have to make further compromises.”
“There are very few ways besides a stunning turnaround in the economy to change our course,” he said. “We of course can consider new taxes, which no one wants to hear about.
“We can try to have continued economic development, but that alone will not solve the problem.
“We will have to work together to make difficult decisions. This is too good of a community not to face and deal with the challenges.”
The budget now goes to City Council, which will decide what, if any, changes need to be made before it approves the final 2013 budget.
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