Citizen Harry: Report on Citizens Levy Committee Meeting 3

Harry Gatjens

The third Citizens Levy Committee, held Aug. 26,  featured a presentation by Lorenzo Hines, Edmonds Finance Director, plus reports from the various subcommittees. Several interesting discussions came up, and I will expand upon those below.

Mr. Hines discussed how the budget is prepared and the components of the City’s financial systems. The City is legally required to have a balanced budget each year. One question came up regarding the definition of a balanced budget. Do you need to balance current expenditures versus current revenues for the budget to be “in balance,” or are you able to dip into your reserve balance and still be in balance. Why not spend some of your reserves during these tough times?

Mr. Hines professed to take the conservative approach of balancing annual expenditures against annual revenue. Otherwise, you eat up any cushion in your financial situation. This is the same approach the City has always used and it is certainly the most widely accepted version of a balanced budget.

Mr. Hines then explained that the budget and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) are compiled from the same data but not compiled in exactly the same manner. While you can get from one to the other, it is not the easiest path to follow. As several of us were confused even after his explanation, he agreed to meet with a subcommittee this Friday to help make the connection.

The subcommittee studying revenue reported on what they had discovered so far. One suggestion was that a special levy for specific items such as parks might be more palatable to voters. That voters are more likely to vote for taxes targeted for specific things. This was countered by the argument that no matter what you call them, to the citizens they are all additional taxes. Those citizens would prefer one big bill rather than be nickel and dimed with a tax for parks here, another one on car tabs there, and  another one for something else.

My personal perspective is that we should present the entire city budget and revenue needs to the citizens. Let them know what it all costs and what additional taxes are needed to fund the city to provide services. And also show what items would need to be scaled back or cut if the required revenues do not get approved. But don’t use tactics like “we will close the parks if you don’t approve a park levy.”

On the other hand. others will suggest that proposals like the car tab increase or a park levy will either tax those who use the service (car tab fee) or will let the citizens make a clear choice about their desire for a service (park levy)

I am not sure who is right. That’s where it makes sense for you, the citizens of Edmonds, to let us know your thoughts. (See information on my Coffee with Harry meeting below.)

The expenditure review committee reported that it was examining weekly disbursements and looking for ways to save. Someone pointed out that while it was good to watch expenditures for office supplies and such, the potential savings wouldn’t really have any major impact on the budget; that we needed to concentrate only on bigger dollar items. This was countered by the idea that by controlling these smaller expenditures, we are setting a tone and sending a message that everything needs to be done as efficiently as possible.

There was a much larger audience at this meeting than has at the first two meetings. During audience comments, it was suggested that Edmonds should try to annex Woodway or Esperance to gain some more property tax revenues. The problem with that idea is the residents of those areas would have to vote for annexation. It seems unlikely that the Woodway City Council would have much interest in putting that issue on a ballot. The idea did highlight, though, that it never hurts to think out of the box, to see if there is some new idea that can help.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall. We are looking fro your input. Come to the meeting, or write or email your City Council member with ideas or questions. You can visit the Levy Committee’s website here.

Also, borrowing upon an idea I had when thinking about being appointed to the City Council, I will be having a “Coffee with Harry” meeting next Thursday morning from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Chanterelle restaurant at 316 Main St. has graciously offered to host with free drip coffee and a space to meet, and anyone who wants to come and talk about either the Levy Committee or the Technology Committee is invited.

If you want to come and ask questions ,you can have a free cup of coffee while we talk. Of course, if you want to buy a fancy coffee or something to eat, that is your option. If I can answer your questions, I will. If I can’t, I will research them and come up with answers. Or, if you just want me carry forward your ideas, I can do that too.

Join me for coffee and Edmonds ideas next Thursday.