Edmonds councilmembers get early look at $1.5 million in proposed budget cuts

Correcting Rob Chave’s title and expanding on his budget-cutting ideas.

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling will be delivering a proposed budget to the Edmonds City Council in mid-October, and councilmembers on Tuesday night got a preview of what might be on the table, including cuts to police, reductions in parks, recreation and arts programs, and possible elimination of the passport service currently offered through the municipal court.

Yaelle Kimmelman

The council also welcomed its newest student representative, Edmonds-Woodway High School senior Yaelle Kimmelman.

While the city is facing a $1.5 million budget deficit, “the budget the council will see on Oct. 16 will include no new taxes or fees,” City Finance Director Shawn Hunstock said Tuesday. However, councilmembers can expect a proposal from the Public Works Department to increase wastewater rates, which would fund the cost of needed repairs to the city’s aging sewer lines. along with a few other “decision packages” — basically spending proposals — from various departments.

According to Hunstock, the budget proposal will address the shortfall in three ways:

– An across-the-board cut of approximately $850,000 from all city departments.

– A reduction is staffing through the Mayor’s Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, estimated to save at least $400,000.

– Projected potential savings of at least $250,000 on the city’s portion of health insurance premium costs.

Each city department head took their turn before the council, not only explaining how they would cut their respective budgets to meet Earling’s goal of covering the $1.5 million shortfall but also reminding councilmembers of their department’s achievements and responsibilities.

Highlights of those presentations:

– Hunstock said the Finance Department will rely more on city staff — rather than outside companies — to conduct sales tax auditing work, and will also reduce supply and travel expenses.

– City Clerk Sandy Chase plans to reduce advertising, rely more on online communication and cut professional training and travel, but she noted that her department has been severely impacted in recent years by an increasing number of public records requests and the related management of email, electronic and paper records. In fact, the department had to hire a half-time public disclosure/records management specialist earlier this year to assist with public records inquiries.

– Police Chief Al Compaan proposes eliminating four commissioned police officers from his department, including vacant assistant chief and patrol officer positions as well as a patrol officer and sergeant position through the voluntary separation program.

– Public Works Director Phil Williams plans to reduce the department’s executive assistant position to 80 percent (not working on Fridays); to cut his engineering staff from three people to two and seek more energy cost savings, including the conversion of the Public Works 17-vehicle fleet to propane fuel (saving approximately $60,000 annually).

– Carrie Hite, who oversees Human Resources and the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, broke out her planned savings this way: For HR, reductions in supplies, professional services (including the elimination of city-wide flu shots), employee tuition reimbursement and awards, plus a shift from print to online advertising. For parks and recreation, a reduction in seasonal labor and park/field irrigation, plus cutting 1.5 full-time equivalent positions from Frances Anderson staff and reducing the recreation office hours. For cultural services, eliminating one of the summer concerts, cutting the scholarship program, limiting summer beach patrols and closing the visitors station. Hite also mentioned two programs that will require additional funding: the city-owned cemetery and Yost Pool.

– Rob Chave, Planning Manager/Acting Development Services Director, said one result of budget cuts planned in his department is that he will be able to staff and take minutes at one Edmonds Planning Board meeting per month instead of two, or find other ways to cut costs, such as posting audio recordings online, and only doing a summary of written minutes.

– City Municipal Court Judge Doug Fair said that among the cuts he is considering would be the reduction or elimination of passport service, plus a variety of other services now provided by the court, from probation on theft and drug cases to periodic review of probation cases.

In other action Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to follow the recommendation of the city’s compensation consultants to put all non-represented employees  on a step system. As a result, all employees will have their salary “bumped” to the next higher step, with some employees who are already close to the next step receiving a small increase and those further below the next step receiving a larger increase. (Councilmember Frank Yamamoto, who is recovering from heart surgery, called in to cast his vote on this matter.)

This change will cost about $65,000, but the city’s budget had already included a total of $88,000 to cover salary increases this year. Councilmembers decided to spend the remaining $23,000 by making a one-time payment — rather than a salary adjustment to all the employees — based upon their individual salary.

 

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18 Comments

  1. It seems odd to me that amid all of the budget cutting outlined in the article, the last point mentioned is an across the board salary increase for ‘non-reperesented empoyees’. I admit that I don’t know exactly what this means. It may be appropriate for all I know. But it does seem odd to me. Can anyone explain this to me?

  2. Gary:

    Citizen Harry’s column on this home page should explain it to you.

  3. The compensation package of medical benefits are still out of line with what the rest of America is actually reducing City by City at the present time. The co-pay and the contribution towards the benefit from the employees, is still low for the employee in the City of Edmonds. Also the actual “package” of benefits is a high costing plan to t he City. It is an escalating cost, unless the City Council is prepared to look seriously at the benefits and change what is a necessary obvious path to take.

  4. Please save Yost pool. I have been going there since I was a kid. I even worked there for a few summers. That pool means so much to the community. The people that work there are great, so people come back year after year. It is most important to the kids. It keeps them busy and off the streets. Being outdoors is good for everyone!

  5. I noted during last evening’s Budget Overview a discussion of three items continuing to place pressure on the General Fund. Included in this discussion was the Public Facilities District (PFD) debt service related to the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

    It was represented that the City initially hoped this debt service requirement would be a onetime item, but that it now appears that this annual payment may be necessary indefinitely.

    Does anybody recall why the City agreed to guarantee the payment of the bond debt service and/or operating deficit? A review of April 2002 City Council meeting minutes indicates that the PFD Board emphasized that they planned only to seek operating funds from the City Council as a last resort. Has the PFD exhausted all other efforts to obtain its required funds?

    Those April, 2002 minutes also indicate that the debt service would be required for many years and that the debt service amounts would increase toward the end of the bond issue.

    Does anybody have any better information or thoughts related to this?

    I believe last night’s Budget Overview indicated a projected amount of $250,000 for 2013. This is a significant use of General Fund money. If this does goes on indefinitely, this obviously could become a much larger cumulative burden as time goes on.

  6. What is the cost for converting a 17-vehicle fleet to propane fuel? Also, I think it is worth preserving the compensation package of medical benefits. I’d rather pay a slightly higher tax rate and know that our civil servants are being taken care of. We cannot expect to maintain highly qualified city staff by cutting benefits and compensation. Just because other cities are cutting medical benefits doesn’t mean that Edmonds needs to. Circumstances obviously vary and in the end you get what you pay for.

  7. It will cost $5,995 per vehicle to make the conversion. The city has been guaranteed a minimum of $1.00 per gallon discount for propane vs regular gasoline. Based upon estimated consumption, the breakeven analysis said the City would be ahead after 19 months.

  8. Christian/Harry, Actually the first 2 years of the 5 year contract with Blue Star Gas is a guarantee of no worse than $1.25 difference less than gasoline and the last 3 years are a guarantee of no less than $1.00 difference. At todays price, the cost difference of proane would be $1.82 less than gasoline. If the trend were to stay the same as it is today, fleets calculates a savings in gasoline cost for the Police Dept. to be in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand dollars over the five year contract not to mention all the thousands of gallons of foreign oil we will not have to purchase.Also, propane will double the oil change intervals and cut air pollutants substantially. The other part of these conversions is that the propane equipment will be transferable to another vehicle, so it’s a one time purchase. I personally think this is one of the best environmental and costs savings projects to come out of the cities fleet department ever.
    Dave Sittauer/Fleet Manager/City of Edmonds

  9. This whole propane thing sounds like a good idea. If it is so good for the city vehicles why do we not do the same thing for the our own vehicles? Could we extend the terms of the contact to citizens? If the savings and environmental issues are so good extending this to the citizens would be good for everybody. We already provide electric charging stations so finding a way to do this should be easy. We aleady have gas station properties that are no longer in use, they could be the site for public refills.

    If we could save the citizens money thius way the citizens may be more willing to support levies to fix our infra structure.

  10. We don’t always get what we pay for, many times we get much less then we pay for.
    It makes us angry when we get hosed but it happens.
    I have always felt that in Edmonds we get more then we pay for. Yes their are exceptions but overall we should be grateful for the employees we have.

  11. Regarding the lament of the City Clerk.

    The Freedom of Information Act…….Celebrating 45 years of HONEST & OPEN Government…….The Sunshine Laws

    Lets not let any of our government entities entertain the idea of going back to the days of back-room deals/ closed door government. When one looks at the waste and corruption that can occur (as in the past) easily in government, cutting back on the peoples rights to open, honest and TRANSPARENT government is not in the best interest of the PEOPLE of the community. An open and honest government actually SAVES $$$ for the community, not the opposite.

  12. I agree completely that an open and honest government greatly benefits the community. In 1996, the Edmonds City Council found it to be in the PUBLIC INTEREST to maintain summary minutes of Executive Sessions (closed door meetings) SUBJECT TO RELEASE in accordance with the provisions of State law, if and when, the reason for the Executive Session expires. The 1996 City Council had full knowledge that no provision of State law required the City to keep minutes of Executive Sessions –YET THEY VOTED TO DO SO ANYWAY.

    The June 5, 2007 City Council Meeting Minutes document that former City Attorney Scott Snyder represented the following:

    With regard to the allegation that something occurred in Executive Session, Mr. Snyder advised once the process was concluded, ALL EXECUTIVE SESSION MINUTES would be available to the PUBLIC. As the minutes would reveal, he was very clear to the Council when this was discussed that a settlement proposal had been presented to the Council; the settlement proposal depended upon passage of the development agreement. He assured he had not polled the Council and only sought reactions and feedback regarding negotiating the terms. He had advised the Council they could not make a decision in Executive Session and that they should not give direction regarding the development agreement. The Council was not asked their opinion regarding the development agreement in Executive Session as that could only be done in open session after a public hearing.

    Mr. Snyder was referring to a litigation matter involving Old Milltown. Despite the fact that it was a litigation matter, the June 5, 2007 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that it was represented to the citizens that once the process was concluded, ALL EXECUTIVE SESSION MINUTES would be available to the PUBLIC.

    The July 17, 2007 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that former City Attorney Snyder noted that the City kept minutes of Executive Session to SATISFY THE PUBLIC at a future date that the Council discussed the appropriate issue.

    It appears that the keeping of Executive Session Minutes may have been related to open government, transparency and RISK MANAGEMENT – the 1996 City Council may have wanted to have evidence to prove to the citizens that Executive Session Meetings were appropriate under State law.

    I would be greatly disappointed if the current City Council decided otherwise. I hope the current City Council will chose to improve upon the efforts of our 1996 City Council to promote Open Government and Transparency in Edmonds.

    I encourage citizens of Edmonds to attend this Tuesday Evening October 2nd’s City Council Meeting scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM. A very important Public Hearing related to Executive Sessions will be conducted. Please let our City Councilmembers know your opinion related to recording Executive Session meetings. If you can’t attend the City Council Meeting, please consider emailing our elected officials and providing them feedback on this very important issue.

  13. The Mayor’s transparent effotst to cut the budget is commendable.

    However, I feel uncomfortable with the reported proposed reduction of our outstanding police dept while our population in Edmonds is slowly increasing. Also I suspect we all ready compare very well cost wise with our neighboring cities.

    Let us not pinch too many pennies, If plausible I would like to see a somewhat smaller reduction of our police protection. .

  14. What we see is a direct result of what the citizens of Edmonds want. We sent the message 18 months ago that the City has a spending problem. Without listening the Mayor then persisted to ask us for over 2 million dollars in last years levies. Again, we struck it down.
    The police force will still be strong at 50 or so officers. Which is plenty to keep our city safe of parking, seatbellt and cell phone infractions… Oh wait, we will have less places to park due to the federal/state granted Main street overhaul.
    I disagree with the raises, especially amidst cutting jobs.

    Governement is a business. They are long overdue for pinching pennies. Dont despair, they will find other ways to make $$$ (example above, increase wastewater costs)

    Side note: thank you for the forward thinking on the propane transformation. If only all of the city could operate proactively.

  15. Jason:

    The decision to ask the taxpayers to vote for higher taxes is not made by the mayor; that decision is made by the city council.

  16. In regard to the response of the city clerks comment:

    In no way shape or form was she complaining about giving out information. Certainly the city follows the FOIA and in my experience has always been quick and efficient in delivering the information.

    Her comment goes towards the abuse of the system by a few of the self-proclaimed overseers of city government holders who think nothing of requesting literally reams of paper on a regular basis and then read a page or two. No they do not sift through all the tables of paper they request, they simply pull a few pages and leave.

    Imagine their outrage, the beating of chests and rending of garments if the city wasted money and resources like this. Instead they blithely continue wasting precious time, energy and assets of the city to prove they are smarter than everyone else.

    So while I agree that government needs to be honest and open, I think we as citizens should be as well. If you spent 5 minutes speaking with Mrs. Chase you would not insinuate that she is anything but a polite, hardworking civil servant who would never suggest clamping down on freedom.

  17. Well said, Michael!

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