Council delays approval of 2011 budget, confirms new parks director

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New Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite

The Edmonds City Council spent a considerable amount of time amending and massaging Mayor Mike Cooper’s proposed 2011 City of Edmonds budget, but in the end councilmembers weren’t happy enough with it to adopt it.

Instead, they voted 4-3 against budget approval, delaying passage until the last Council meeting of the year — Tuesday, Dec. 21 — to allow time for formatting issues and other unanswered logistical questions to be resolved. Of those who voted no:

– Councilmember Diane Buckshnis reiterated her long-standing complaint that the City’s Finance Department was not transparent enough in how it reports budget numbers, making it confusing for both councilmembers and citizens to understand.

– Councilmember Michael Plunkett said that before he voted for the budget, he wanted to see a final  document that included various amendments that had been passed Tuesday night by council.

– Councilmember Lora Petso noted that she had never before in her council career actually voted for a budget, but she might do so this time, if she had an opportunity to take a closer look before the 21st.

– And Councilmember D.J. Wilson said he was “philosophically opposed” to a budget that focuses on short-term fixes and isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Among the amendments the council approved to the nearly $35.6 million draft budget:

$100,000 to hire a consultant to develop a strategic plan for economic development in Edmonds, as recommended by the city’s 17-member Economic Development Commission.

$100,000 to be used for future bond debt for the Edmonds Center for the Arts. (The Council earlier in the meeting had separately approved $100,000 be allocated to the ECA from the City Lodging Tax.)

A reduction of $100,000 budgeted to pay for City Attorney’s fees, from $597,000 to $497,000. “It’s one area we can control,” noted Plunkett. “I’m all for making an attempt.

$50,000 to fund a compensation consultant.

A reduction of $50,000 in “prisoner care” – essentially room and board for those put in jail.

$30,000 to complete the area designated for a park in front of Old Mill Town. The project has been delayed due to lack of funding required to prepare the land, add utilities and do landscaping.

$5,000 to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce to help fund its annual Fourth of July Fireworks show.

The council did approve the Mayor’s choice to fill the vacant position of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director. Carrie Hite, currently deputy director of the City of Kirkland, starts her new job in January. Hite has Edmonds roots; she graduated from the former Woodway High School and her mother still lives in Edmonds.

The council also:

– Agreed to increase fines for illegally cutting down trees. The penalty will go from $500 per tree to $1,000 per tree, for those 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and to $3,000 for trees 3 inches or larger in diameter.

– Approved amendments to update the City’s civil enforcement procedures regarding code violations.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Some of us had comments to make last night, but we were not willing to remain until near midnight as Audience Comments were scheduled by the Council President to be near the end of the meeting. I can only conclude that the Council President really does not want any comments from the audience. I had two items that I wanted to address.

    1) The 2011 Hourly Employee Wage Schedule was approved with no discussion by the full council. It had been reviewed only by the Finance Committee at a meeting at which only one of the two committee members was present. I was at that Finance Committee meeting and the justification for changing the schedule was the increase in the state’s minimum wage. While only the lowest position was affected by that change, all 20 pay grades, up to near $50 an hour, were increased because of the change in the minimum wage. This action makes no sense to me.

    2) The Mayor was given approval to sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement, that provides for a 1% pay increase for 2011, with the Edmonds Police Officers’ Association.
    This is a very unusual agreement in that it is only for one year when the term is usually 3 years. I can only surmise from that that the Police were not interested in a 3-year term at this time because this is not a favorable time for locking in future pay increases. The situation was the reverse 3 years ago when they were able to lock in pay increases that turned out to be much higher than would have resulted from annual agreements. For example they received a COLA increase of 6.2% in 2009 – an extraordinary amount for 2009. Since these negotiations are necessarily done in Executive Session, all of the facts will never be known by the public. But I object to the Mayor being given approval to sign this unusual one-year agreement with no discussion before the public.

    So much for the transparancy promised by some of the new council members.

  2. Ron,

    Thank you so much for questioning council about this issue. We all appreciate the work of our dedicated staff, so it is difficult to raise the issue of equitable pay and benefits in these hard times. I appreciate both your courage, and your persistence.

    I read that cities all over are cutting staff, freezing salaries, and making other very difficult decisions to balance their budgets. I would not recommend across the board anything. Each department should be treated individually. It is reasonable to look back to what has happened in the past, such as the 6.2% increase for the police in 2009, to determine what will budgeted for.

    A place to start would be to freeze salaries of all of those employees who received raises for 2010. Then council could look at which departments took furlough days last year, decreasing their wage, as well as which departments earned the most overtime, increasing their wage. Both sides of what happened in the past, sacrifices made and rewards given, should be examined to make the most fair determinations about the budgeted staff salary and benefits for next year.

    I also understand that some staff members could be facing having to contribute, or contribute more, towards their health insurance. This should also be taken into account when balancing staff sacrifice and rewards.

    Just some thoughts. Again, thanks so much for staying so very well informed and raising the most difficult of questions.

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