In shadow of levies’ rejection, City Council takes conservative approach to 2012 budget

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A week after citizens firmly cast their votes against three property tax levies that would have assisted the City of Edmonds in addressing its budget shortfall, the City Council Tuesday night showed little enthusiasm for adding any items to the 2012 city budget that is scheduled to be approved next week

Mayor Mike Cooper had already presented to the council in early October what he described as a “conservative” budget that included a hiring freeze. On Tuesday night, staff were invited to present their highest-priority additional proposals — known as decision packages — for council consideration, ranging from a pull-behind mower to replace the 14-year-old rusty one used to maintain the city’s ball fields to installation of long-delayed and state-required pedestrian countdown timers for the city’s intersections.

Those councilmembers in attendance — minus DJ Wilson and Diane Buckshnis, who were absent — listened attentively but the only proposal that seemed to have general support was a request from City Clerk Sandy Chase for an electronic document management system to assist her with the growing number of public records requests the city receives. Chase said the new system would be a welcome upgrade to the outdated one currently in use, which was purchased in 1993.

“I’m inclined not to add on any extras to the bare bones budget,” Councilmember Steve Bernheim said, noting the city should “squeeze what it can” out of existing resources.

Cooper reminded the Council that there is likely to be more budget pain in the next few weeks, when Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state Legislature grapple during a special legislative session with significant additional cuts that are likely to be passed along to the cities and counties.

The council decided by a 4-1 vote (Councilmember Michael Plunkett voting no) to adopt an hourly employee wage schedule that complies with the state’s new minimum wage of $9.04 an hour, but deferred a vote on a salary ordinance for non-represented employees. The proposal for the city’s 40 directors and managers would provide a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, but there was concern about passing such a measure without the full council present. In addition, Councilmembers Lora Petso and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas wondered whether it made sense to wait until the consultant hired by the council a few months ago to conduct a compensation study completes his work, scheduled for February or March 2012.

In addition, the council:

– Discussed a recommended increase in the one-time charge paid by new customers connecting to water, sewer, and storm utility connections. The issue will come back for public discussion prior to adoption.

– Approved by a 5-0 vote an amendment to the portion of the city code that establishes an “animal benefit fund” to instead describe it as an annual council appropriation. The $300 appropriation is used to “financially assist low-income city of Edmonds residents in obtaining spay or neuter services for their dogs or cats.”

– Also approved 5-0 an addendum for $411,400 to a professional services agreement with CHS Engineers for additional design work and right-of-way and support services to refurbish and upgrade nine sewer pump stations.

– Heard a proclamation of Saturday, Nov. 26 as Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to support small businesses by shopping locally.

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