2011 budget passes Edmonds City Council – now awaits mayor’s signature

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The Edmonds City Council passed its version of the 2011 city budget Tuesday night, and the next step is a signature by Mayor Mike Cooper. The vote was 6-1, with Councilmember D.J. Wilson voting no. Wilson called the budget “irresponsible” because it doesn’t fund important initiatives and isn’t sustainable long term.

Some of Wilson’s fellow councilmembers admitted they also were less than thrilled with the final product, but they believed it was the best the city could do in lean economic times.

“While there are many things I’m not pleased with, overall I think the staff and mayor’s office have put together a very lean budget as they have over the years,” said Councilmember Strom Peterson.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, appointed late last year to replace the late Councilmember Peggy Pritchard Olson, said she was “reluctantly” supporting the budget despite her inability to get clarification and information from the city’s finance department. “Our questions, comments and requests have been ignored,” Buckshnis said.

In a milestone of sorts, Councilmember Lora Petso noted that she also had some misgivings about approving the budget “although I’m quite excited because it might be the first city budget I’ve ever voted for,” she said.

Now it’s up to the mayor to decide whether to accept the council’s amendments and sign the nearly $3-million budget into law, or to call the council back on Dec. 28 for further tweaking before the year’s end.

In other action, the council:

– Unanimously approved a resolution to name the Edmonds Library building in honor of Pritchard Olson, who passed away Nov. 9, 2009 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In introducing the resolution, Peterson said the naming would be a perfect tribute to Pritchard Olson, who was an avid reader and two-time president of the Friends of the Edmonds Library.

-Agreed 7-0 to approve two new health insurance plans for city staff and elected officials. Human Resources Director Debi Humann told council that the new plans were chosen following a year-long study by an employee health benefits committee, and include two options: Health First and Group Health. The new options will cost the city less than it would have spent on its current health insurance plans.

-Unanimously approved an amendment to the Municipal Employees’ Benefit Trust Plan to ensure that the employee contribution rates, which mirror Social Security contributions, remain the same despite a federal reduction in Social Security rates.

-Adopted by a 5-2 vote (Wilson and Michael Plunkett voting no) amendments to 2010 city Comprehensive Plan elements involving water, storm and surface water, street trees and the capital facilities plan.

-Discussed the next steps for initiating a review of the city’s compensation policy for non-represented employees. The idea, said Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, is to ensure that Edmonds’ 40 non-union employees are being paid fairly compared to their peers in other municipalities. “I’m interested to see if we are below market,” she said.”Certainly when times turn around, we need to pay people what they are worth.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. Councilwoman Buckshnis,
    For the sake of clarity, precisely what information have you not gotten from the finance department? Exactly what are you specifically seeking to find out? What are your specific questions precisely?
    You were appointed last year, have been “spending hundreds of hours” doing research and the levy committee which you head has been doing “audits” of everything the City does financially.
    What precisely are you not understanding? If you do not have confidence in the financial information that you have then why would you vote in favor of the budget? Is that a responsible thing to do?
    Since you voted for this budget, assuming the Mayor signs it, you cannot turn around next year and complain that you didn’t have an understanding of what you voted for (this budget).

  2. There were really some strange comments made by council members last night about the role of a consultant in reviewing the compensation policy for non-represented employees. The most relevant statement, see the last paragraph above before comments, was made by Councilmember Fraley-Monillas. I would add that any review of the policy also needs to determine if any of those employees are being paid above market – the review needs to take into account the interests of the employees, the city, and taxpayers.

    I have some thoughts about how to proceed from here with this issue. The consultant that’s retained must be a consultant who specializes in compensation; there are several very good firms that are dedicated to that speciality. Prior to retaining a consultant the job descriptions need to be reviewed by staff to determine if any updating is required, as mentioned by Ms. Humann last night.

    I believe that the tasks for the consultant are to critique the current policy, and to benchmark as many of the 40 jobs as possible – meaning that matches are available in other cities and the benchmarking can be done within an acceptable budget for the total review of the policy.

  3. I sent the message below to all council members and the Mayor last Sunday evening. Several times I’ve requested, to no avail, that a survey needs to be done of the compensation concessions being made by other government employees. I suspect the survey would show that most other organizations are giving back more than the 9 furlough days Edmonds employees, excluding Police and Fire, gave in 2009.

    “In case you missed 60 Minutes tonight. It seems to me that most municipalities will have similar fates as what’s happening to states. It’s time to freeze all compensation – step increases, merit, COLA, and perhaps implement additional furloughs.”

    Ron

    http://www.cbs.com/primetime/60_minutes/video/?pid=5aqxjXF2pG9wdYB8F5rq_3j6tN4i_j6v

  4. Wilson and Plunkett voted no on amendments to the Comprehensive plan.See story above for details
    Wilson voted no on the Budget See story above for details.
    So if you are talking about the comp plan amendments can you share with us your thoughts?
    Public employee pay, medical, and benefits costs are issues that go beyond the local level. Trying to solve these issues at the local level will bring about some interesting problems. Lets assume locally we decide we pay too much and act on that with pay cuts. What will that do to the existing employees if they can go somewhere else locally and get the same job now for more pay? Lets assume we pay too little and act on that and increase pay. For any open jobs we could recruit good people from other nearby cities. Edmonds acting alone with this issue is not as beneficial to the public as to have all of govenment figure out if we pay too much or to little. Short term consessions and constraints on pay and benefits may be ok and cause little disruption but big changes up or down may cause issues we would not like to create.

    Ron you suggested a revisit your comments in 2015. I would like to revist you comments but not sure how to do it based on what you are saying. Any help to find your comments would be helpful.

    Ron, I am on the current levy committee and am trying to get to the bottom of all the numbers and issues around town. Cutting through the noise is not an easy task. I would like to meet with you and gain your insites about the issues you mentioned above. Would you be willing to meet and discuss?

  5. In my Post above #5 I was refering to Ron B and not Ron W. Sorry if that was confusing.
    Ron W’s point about freezing. Should we do that in isolation or in connection with other cities, counties, and our state?

  6. Darrol
    I spent my entire career in the highly competitive and fast growing electronics industry; an industry that had characteristics similar to the .com companies of the late 90’s. The two companies that I worked for, and subsequently retired from, had only moderate employee turnover – because employees realized that they were generally being treated fairly. Compensation surveys were done annually; usually we used data provided by the American Electronics Association. Our goal was to place our salary ranges at the middle of the survey data. When we encountered recessions, like in the early 70’s and the early 80’s, we did what we had to do with compensation – just like other cities, counties and the state are now doing. What actions other companies were taking was not of primary importance. Employees by and large realized that we had to do what we had to do to keep the company on solid ground financially. And we took “weeks off” without pay, but had to work those weeks.

    In my experience, employees rarely change jobs simply to go to a higher paying position. There usually is a reason of higher importance.

  7. All I am saying is that it would be better to do all public employee comp at one time and not have each entity go it alone. It the differental for the same job is large enough some will move. What is that threshold? Will a $10,000 difference cause someone to change? Since public employee pay is tied to our taxes at all levels of government it makes sence to fix all at once not just one entity.

  8. Sometimes things make sense, but are impossible to achieve. I have no idea how to achieve what you’re suggesting. I’ll leave it to you.

  9. Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t Edmonds have only 40 employees? A $50k (or more) study is a lot of money per position. What if it is found that Edmonds isn’t paying competitive wages? The assumption seems to be that we are paying too much but that may not be the case.

  10. There are approximately 40 employees who are not unionized. $50k is not required to simply do a salary survey; the entire policy needs an overhaul and the HR Director has also requested help to get it done. Her and her assistant are not compensation experts; they are generalists. Additionally, they legitimately do not have the time even if they had the expertise. The idea, shared by several, if not all, council members, is to get the policy and the pay right. There’s no assumption that the pay for the total group will decrease.

  11. Ron, Per your request Teresa has sent me your email. I will be in touch next week so we can talk. There are some options for moving edmonds into the future. I will be happy to share our views we we are in touch and see what we can come up with. I have found some ways to avoid a levy in the near term and will be interested in your thoughts. Look for my email in the next couple of days. Playing with the grandkids until Monday.

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