The Edmonds City Council approved the 2012 Budget Tuesday evening. It was a balanced budget, but only because the council made unrealistic amendments to it.
The original budget was well-prepared by Mayor Cooper and his staff. It showed a $42,000 surplus at the end of 2012 but was accomplished by trimming every department as tightly as possible.
Because of the tight budget, Finance Director Shawn Hunstock had included a contingency fund of .5 percent, or $165,000. This would allow for those items that come up as the year goes along to be paid without rewriting the budget. For example, the City currently has a temporary employee working as the Mayor’s executive assistant while at the same time is paying the previous executive assistant. There is no budget for this and hence it could be paid out of a contingency balance. Without such a line item, budget amendments will need to be made every time something comes up that wasn’t anticipated.
The budget presented Tuesday night had decision packages for additional items that took the budget from a $42,000 surplus to a deficit of $273,000. The decision packages included items like improved software for the finance and park departments, a records request system for the clerk’s office and a few other items. The council left all of these items in the budget.
So how did they balance it? They took out the $165,000 contingency fund and they eliminated the Human Resource Director from the budget. It was pointed out that currently the department is only functioning because Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite is spending 20 hours a week in the department and the remaining employee, interim Human Resources Manager Mary Ann Hardie is putting in 20 hours extra each week. However, the council did not think the HR Department needed a director-level person at approximately $110,000 and instead thought a lower-paid person could do the work. But they didn’t budget for anyone in the department, even while stating that they knew the department needed two full-time people. They didn’t add any money for even the lower-paid person they acknowledged was needed.
Between the two changes, the council reduced expenditures by $275,000 to make the budget balance again. It seems incredibly wrong to me, that when they keep talking about transparency and integrity, that they could approve a budget that they knew for certain wasn’t accurate. All this talk about being up front with the citizens and they just pass a budget, knowing that it can’t possibly be correct.
No contingency fund, yet how are they going to pay for the two people filling the executive assistant’s job? There is no money in the budget to pay for investigations, yet there are two going on right now, one for Kimberly Cole’s situation and one for Debi Humann’s situation. There is a certainty that these things will need to be paid for, but there is no budget for them and no contingency fund. What kind of honest and transparency is involved in a budget that does that?
For all the high-minded talk about how things are going to be different now, the same lack of financial integrity is still being performed. The other amazing things is that the Edmonds-Woodway High School student council representative asked more pointed and relevant questions than most of the councilmembers.
The budget is supposed to be a roadmap for City finances for the next year. What kind of roadmap starts out with known errors? The councilmembers should be ashamed of themselves.
Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government.