Edmonds mayor tells councilmembers he won’t sign their budget

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Updated with letter from Mayor; councilmember comments

My Edmonds News has learned that Mayor Mike Cooper won’t be signing the 2011 city budget that was approved last week by the Edmonds City Council.

Cooper’s decision doesn’t affect budget implementation, since under city law it will become effective without his signature. It does, however, reflect the Mayor’s concerns about the Council’s amendments to his original $35.6 million budget.

“While many of the expenditures Council made during the amendment process have value, I am concerned with the effects these amendments will have on the ending General Fund balance, especially in this delicate economy,” Cooper wrote in a letter emailed Tuesday to councilmembers.

The council’s budget “increases spending and lowers our 2011 General Fund ending balance by over $400,000 when compared to the Mayor’s proposed preliminary budget Council received in October 2010,” Cooper said, putting the city “dangerously close” to the one-month targeted reserve that the Council itself established. As a result, Cooper added, the city will fall $400,0000 below that reserve target by the end of 2012.

Cooper also cited the “arbitrary manner” in which the council reduced the City Attorney’s budget by more than 20 percent, noting that the City Attorney’s expenses have increased 15 percent since 2008. “In addition, the council has done budget amendments inreasing appropriations for the City Atorney in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010,” Cooper said. “While I support collaboratively looking for ways to control costs, to do so without a plan of action is, in my view, not a responsible decision and gives a flawed impression when a member of the public looks at the ending balance.”

D.J. Wilson, the only councilmember to vote against the council budget, said he believes that Cooper’s letter “gets to the heart of my concerns,” noting the budget “has some good things in it, but it also simply pretends some costs don’t exist.”

“It isn’t sustainable, which is a problem,” Wilson said. “But it’s even more of a problem that the Council made no effort in this budget to come to terms with that fact. Ignoring problems won’t make them go away.”

The full text of the Mayor’s  letter can be found here.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Mayor cooper, you are right in not signing this budjet. the council didnot say how they would reduce the attorneys fees. They them selfs our over budjet. They should look at why the city is sued so much. They under funded the ECA hoping things willl get better. They approved a 1% wage increase for the police and approved an increase for hourly wage employees. The council also approved a benefit package that employees pay O% on them selfs and 10% on there dependents. My wife got a 20% increase in her premium and her deductable was raised from $3000 to $ 5000. I am not appossed to treating employees fairly but times are changing

  2. EXPENSES CANNOT BE MEANINGFULLY BROUGHT UNDER CONTROL IF COMPENSATION GOES UNTOUCHED. COMPENSATION IN THE 2011 BUDGET, FOR ALL 213 EMPLOYEES, AMOUNTS TO 53% OF ALL EXPENSES, SO THAT IS OBVIOUSLY AN ELEMENT OF THE BUDGET THAT SHOULD BE THOROUGHLY REVIEWED BY COUNCIL MEMBERS.

    REGRETTABLY, COUNCIL MEMBERS SPENT NO TIME, AT LEAST BEFORE THE PUBLIC, SCRUTINIZING COMPENSATION.

    BECAUSE OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT, I HAVE FREQUENTLY URGED THE CITY COUNCIL TO REVIEW WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OUR CITY WITH EMPLOYEE CONCESSIONS COMPARED TO WHAT’S BEING NEGOTIATED BY OTHER GOVERNMENTS. SOME EDMONDS WORKERS (NOT POLICE OR FIRE) TOOK FURLOUGHS IN 2009, AND SOME WERE NOT GIVEN MERIT INCREASES. FOR THE YEARS 2009, 2010 AND 2011, LET’S LOOK AT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN COMPARABLE CITIES AND ALSO INCLUDE OTHER MEASURES, LIKE NO COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENTS AND PAY CUTS . I ALSO BELIEVE THAT IT WOULD BE VALUABLE TO HAVE SNOHOMISH COUNTY, KING COUNTY AND STATE WORKERS INCLUDED IN THE BENCHMARKING, AS THOSE WORKERS HAVE MADE CONSIDERABLE CONCESSIONS. THE RESULTS OF THAT BENCHMARKING WOULD BE A GOOD INDICATOR FOR WHAT SHOULD BE DONE WITH THE COMPENSATION FOR EDMONDS EMPLOYEES.

  3. Considering there were over 100+ questions regarding this budget, I commented to the Mayor, that I would be embarrassed as I heard from many financial savvy citizens. So, yes, I would also, as Mayor, think twice.

    It is time to get to the actual numbers of the General Fund and the composition of that fund as well as all the funds as demonstrated by most cities and compliant with Governmental Finance Officer Association Accounting Standards. For us to rely on the FYE ending General Fund Balance of 2009 as usage of the beginning fund balance for the Executive Summary is totally irresponsible. This number should be a moving target based on amendments and actual revenues and expenditures.

    Also, citizens should be able to see the salaries, benefits and reasons for the “banding of certain” employees in those areas which is why we need a compensation consultant. While I agree with DJ in principle, I don’t believe the citizens have the correct numbers of both our general fund balance (i.e. the Sept Quarterly may have had an embedded amendment not approved) which would be an obvious concern to a Mayor that is new to this City. But, on a whole I think we can work with this budget.

  4. Diane, If as you imply that the numbers are wrong how could you vote for approval of the budget. I would like to see you address the issues the mayor brought up. As to your continual concern of not having actual real numbers why not give the mayor and his staff time to get the reports changed. It is my understanding that the mayor is working on it . Give it a rest . lets see what happens in the near futher

  5. Ron I agree with about everything you said but did’nt like the comment about public employees, they start work like everybody else when there suppost to if there are late they are gone. and there is a lot of public employees starting work a lot eariler than this getting rid of snow, working hard thank you very much, not sitting on there — complaining about city goverment.

  6. So when, in his short tenure, has Mayor Mike attempted to mislead the residents of Edmonds ? Answer: Not Yet !

    I guess Mayor Mike’s resume in reality, working within our states Legislature, and most recently as Snohomish County Commissioner wouldn’t qualify him as “an expert” & or knowledgeable in areas of city/county/state budgets. Mayor Cooper is probably the most overqualified Mayor in the state of Washington.

    The City of Edmonds is lucky to have him & he should be applauded for actually “having a set” to stand up for fiscal responsibility in City Goverment.

  7. Public employee compensation is a national issue @ all levels of government. Compensation costs have sunk many cities, school districts and other entities. Not just current salary and benefits, but retirement packages also. So Edmonds is not off the list of municipalities needing to address the issue. At some point soon, elected officials and our unions will need to do the difficult thing, but i’m sure they can learn many lessons from others around the country. Delay is not a good strategy.

  8. Ron B.

    My only comment at this time on what you have written is that if you check council meeting minutes of Nov. 25, 2008 you will learn that I spoke against the 5.8% COLA pay increases for 2009, and I also voted against them. Mr. Bernheim was the second council member who voted against the increases.

  9. In the preceding comment it appears that “two Rons make a right.” Employees are clearly overpaid and pampered. That IS the major budget problem. And our new Mayor is clearly wishing to protect the employees even though this budget hardly touches the problem.
    Diane is also right. This budget will work for the most part for awhile. And we do continue to need improved transparency. Lots of resistance in this area.
    Ron B’s comments are among his best writings I’ve observed over the years. Like most of us, he has DJ pegged as the self serving person he has proven to be. And if the Council members could just find a way to limit DJ’s blabbering at meetings then they would have about 25-30% more time to seriously discuss their ideas and to have shorter meetings. DJ wastes way too much of their collective time at the Council meetings with his showboatings.
    Finally legal expenses must be reduced and the Council recognizes this. Its time the city quit using its overpowering economic clout to put down individual citizens such as the victim of the infamous totem pole lawsuit. Our former mayor has now turned to pushing chicken County flagpole rules; however it appears that he has been stopped by his superiors in the County.

  10. Ron B: I wanted to clarify my view on the benefits the City pays to its employees. I thought your post here was thoughtful and even handed, but I don’t believe you characterize my position or my comments accurately. So, let me try to clarify.

    – One of the first issues I went to work on when I got on Council was the issue of employee medical insurance coverage. In fact, Ron W. and I spent a fair amount of time on the topic together. My primary concern is the rate of inflation of medical insurance. I can elaborate on that but that would be a longer post.

    – My comments the other night were, I thought, pretty clear. The current medical benefit package doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons. Our current medical benefit provider (AWC) is a terrible partner, and has us over a barrel. The sooner we separate from them, in my view, the better.

    – The new medical benefit package is better than what we have (saving the City about $30,000/month) but it is still not very good. The comment about covering 90% of a hospitalization was made because I don’t want any of our employees worried about their financial situation when they have a major hospitalization. I continued to explain that I believe co-pays should go up and that front end costs for primary care should be borne to a greater degree by employees – but not the tertiary emergency care.

    – I made no comments regarding my compensation or the benefits as they apply to me. My situation was never my point, and I’m not sure how you heard that. But, if I was unclear, of course I do get City benefits as you noted. And, Council chose to cut those back this year to restrict that benefit for Council. I’m not concerned one way or another about my own situation regarding medical benefits from the City.

    At the end of the day, medical benefit coverage is a tough issue for any employer, but more so for employers with union contracts, and even more so for employers with public employee contracts.

    And, for three years I’ve been working behind the scenes to try to address this issue. I’d be happy to fill you in on the details of that work off line.

    Best,

    DJ

  11. Quote from last DJ comment: “I’m not concerned one way or another about my own situation regarding medical benefits from the city.” That is simply not credible. Any serious family provider is concerned with such. His comments and facial expressions at the last council meeting also confirm his self preoccupation with concern about his city medical benefits.

    I think DJ often talks way too much about everythjing and in doing so unknowingly often paints a harsh and negative portrait of himself. And this effort to unring his verbal bell makes him look a bit silly.

    His blabbering threat to close all parks and to build a fence around them to keep citizens out if they fail to support a levy was perhaps the dumbest mispeak of all. DJ doesn’t belong on our Council. We can do better.

  12. Clarity. Let’s actually have some from this Council. How about an explanation of how the one month reserve changed the budget making it look more robust? How about clear explanation of how the Council will reduce legal fees by $100k? How about an explanation of why it makes any rationale sense to spend $50k on a study of non-represented employee compensation when that amount is $1,250 per employee?
    Will the Council be showing a “checkbook style” accounting for the monies they spend in 2011 and compare it to their budget for the item?
    How much did those “100 +” questions cost in staff time, and what did they yield for those costs? How much does the “clarity” that Councilwoman Buckshnis is saying that citizen’s want actually cost (staff time, software upgrades)? And why can’t a financially savvy person, with so much experience and expertise and after a year of constantly questioning everything about the financials in Edmonds, provide some answers and some real positive solutions and contribute to the understanding of the numbers.
    It is unlikely that a Council that bickers as much as this one, put the Prop One on the ballot, has been thinking about a levy for years, thought spending $1.1M on Skippers was a good idea, and passes a budget at the last possible minute which is clearly not realistic, will be getting my vote in November for either a levy or re-election.
    Perhaps it is time the Council represented the folks in Edmonds rather than being an elite group powered by their own narrow special interests and pet projects.

  13. WOW alot of good comments. I wish all of us could sit in the same room and put together a plan to get out of this mess and move along.

    Ray M. I am planning to run against DJ and I think you could help me. You have a lot of information that seems to suggest that DJ is not doing a good job. Would you help me in putting together an action plan to make this year’s campaign the most negitive of all time?

  14. Darrol,

    I’d love to see you run. As I’ve said to you privately, you have a creative, positive, active approach to civic engagement and Edmonds could benefit from such an approach.

  15. After looking into the matter of legal fees, which is public information and the link to it is on the City’s website at: http://www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/financial.stm , one can clearly see that the Council spent $62,858.30 in 2009, and for January through September of 2010 they spent $47,202 in legal fees.
    One can also see that the Skipper’s purchase attempt cost $6,256.50 just in legal fees in 2010.
    Councilwoman Petso’s litigation ( in which according to my further research she represented her self “pro se” so she did not incur legal fees herself but did incur costs for filing ect) cost over 2009 and 2010 $68,407.61. (My ability with figures is limited so please check for yourself.) Ms. Petso felt the need to sue the City, and yet voted to approve a budget which ignores the fact that litigation is always possible and expensive and should be adequately provided for in a realistic budget. A citizen’s only recourse sometimes is to file a lawsuit. Like it or not, that is how a democracy works.

    It is incomprehensible that the Council decided to arbitrarily cut the budget for legal expense based on their own spending and litigation history. My understanding is that the Law Firm of Ogden Murphy & Wallace bills at $215/hour which as lawyers go is a bargain.
    What appears to be legally setting up the Transportation Benefit District cost $11,428.40 in 2009. Whether or not one agrees with the underlying issues of a litigation, or retainer fee cost the City must have a City Attorney and must be equipped and funded to deal with the legal realities of running a City. There are doubtless savings to be had, but just saying “$100K” less we hope”, is not realistic nor responsible.
    Moving forward involves understanding what the actual facts are, and why in 2011 there will likely be legal costs which exceed the budget and why.

  16. Diane T,

    Thanks for the research and thanks for sending the link to the attorney fees. You reference the 62,858.30 in legal fees incurred by council. If I understand correctly, that amount includes the cost for the city attorney to attend council meetings, so is not purely money spent by council as many other staff members participate in those meetings and have access to legal advice in that context, as per OMW contract.

    I am more concerned about the legal expenditures by Planning (68,215- over 6000 more than council), and by Engineering (47,548.80). While I understand that council, as our legislative body, should have access to legal advice in council meetings, and outside of council meetings, why are Planning and Engineering requiring so much legal advice, when their job, under the direction of the mayor, is to enforce the city’s code? Which also leads to my question about the 73,653.80 expense for code re-writes for 2009.

    In looking at City Attorney expenses, we should be questioning the expenses incurred by all departments, not just by city council. Do you have any thoughts on this, Diane?

  17. Ms. Bloom,
    My point with the figures was not a criticism of the Council’s spending for legal, quite the opposite. Legal fees are essential to the running of a City and not at all discretionary. There may be areas where the legal fees can be reduced, but they will always be a part of the budget. The Council’s expenses for legal include many things as you pointed out (writing ordinances, giving legal advice and opinions, researching points of law, and answering questions for the mayor, council and staff)
    I included the fees spent by the City for the Petso litigation to illustrate that a citizen lawsuit can be expensive, and those costs cannot be “foreseen” in the budget. I am not being critical of her bringing the suit, she has as we all do, the right to sue if we need to. As a member of the Council, she is very aware of the costs. And yet supported the $100K cut in the legal fees budget, which makes no sense to me.
    I agree with you that many of the legal expenses shown deserve some scrutiny (and there may be a perfectly good reason the costs are high). And I don’t disagree with about the Engineering and code re-writes being areas which could use further explanation.
    There is much in the area “legal fees” which is outside of the control of the City, and of the City Council but which should be rationally budgeted for and funded. The legal fees will have to be paid, regardless of what the budget estimated them to be. Best to be realistic in the budget. Irresponsible not to.
    Have a great New Year!

  18. to Ron b It doesnt matter what I am and I really don’t care what you think but you should’nt complain about public employees and think your doing anyone a favor by getting up at 5 in the morning and complaining, And to everybody who vents about the city council people they put in a whole lot of time and get very little money for what they do.

  19. Diane T (comment 19),

    I have had an opportunity to think about your comment and believe that you and I are functioning on two very different basic assumptions about the legal fees incurred by the city. You assume that the past legal fees have all been warranted, and, as Mayor Cooper, question why council would reduce the amount of funds allocated for city attorney expenses.

    I, on the other hand, believe that not all of the legal fees incurred have been warranted. I reference my personal experience with the wetland near my home and the enormous waste of taxpayer dollars as a result of the delay publishing of the critical areas ordinance (CAO), which resulted in a property owner vesting development rights under the old CAO. Please see my presentation to City Council on 12-21-10, and Ken Reidy’s comment which references case law which confirms that the delay publishing did not delay the effective date of the law:

    http://edmondsforum.com/category/wetlands/

    Our city attorney should have known that the delay publishing did not delay the effective date of the law. It pains me to know that the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in fees to OMW, hearing examiner fees, superior court costs, staff time, citizen time and money, settlement money awarded to the property owner, all could have been prevented had the planning department been informed by our city attorney that the new CAO was in effect at the time of the property owner’s application, and, therefore, his development application could not be vested under the old CAO.

    This has been a massive waste of taxpayer dollars that has gone on for over five years, continues to this day, and could have been prevented by our city attorney. Do you see now why I have concerns about the cost of legal services provided to the city by OMW?

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