Citizen Harry: A report on the Edmonds City Council budget workshop

Harry Gatjens

On Tuesday evening, the Edmonds City Council held a special meeting in which the Mayor had each of his department heads make a presentation to council regarding the upcoming 2011 budget. Department leaders gave a brief explanation of what their department does for the city, some historical information about how they have made cutbacks over the past 10 years, and then mentioned what changes they expect for 2011.

No actual budget numbers were discussed as those are all still in the works, but if anticipated staffing changes were anticipated, or significant new projects were going to be undertaken, they were mentioned as a “Decision Package.”

Lorenzo Hines, Edmonds Finance Director, led off with an overview of the city’s revenue for the past two years and then some research that had been done through both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Washington State Economic  Forecast. Both showed little economic growth in 2010.

He also pointed out three other worrisome factors related to city revenue: Property assessments decreased 9 percent for the City of Edmonds, resulting in less property tax revenue. Retail sales show little signs of growth, meaning little increase in sales tax revenue. Finally, an state initiative before voters in November that would privatize liquor sales in the state could reduce Edmonds’ share of Liquor Control Board revenues by as much as $500,000.

All in all, the revenue projections were not promising.

Doug Fair then made a presentation for the Municipal Court, describing all the auxiliary services the court provides, such as night court, passport processing, probation services and more. The court actually contributes to the city a surplus of $450,000, since  its fees exceed its expenditures. However, if the court is asked to reduce expenses, some of those auxiliary services may need to be cut, he said.

Police Chief Al Compaan then gave the  Edmonds Police Department’s presentation. He mentioned the reductions made in 2009 when former Mayor Gary Haakenson was forced to make budget cuts. He also described the need to upgrade the laptop computers in patrol cars, as the current ones are aging and also not powerful enough to run new software that enhances officers’ abilities to get needed information while on patrol.

In addition, Compaan requested a decision package of $20,000-$25,000 for new bulletproof vests. The vests have a five-year life cycle and the current vests do not meet federal standards. Councilmember Buckshnis asked if it was possible to sell the old vests to other parties to reduce the net cost of the new ones. The Chief pointed out that the department didn’t want the vests to get into the hands of criminal elements and there would also be a liability issue when selling such an item.

It was also brought up that charges to Woodway for police services do not cover full costs of services provided. The charges are based on a per-incident rate of approximately $125. There has not been a study conducted to see exactly what the actual costs might be; the rate in the past has been determined on a sort of a good-neighbor policy between the respective mayors. However, the total charges are only about $10,000 annually, so the cost of an extensive pricing study most likely would exceed any benefit. It was agreed that the issue would be visited, however.

Phil Williams, Edmonds’ Public Works Director, had several large expenditures listed, but most were for infrastructure and have been funded by previously approved rate hikes. He did suggest pre-buying in 2011 those police cars that are not scheduled for replacement until 2012. Ford is discontinuing the Crown Victoria model in 2012 and rather than have to change models and lose the consistency, it might be better to buy the current model and just store them for a year, he said.

City Clerk Sandy Chase mentioned a need for an additional person who would be dedicated to handling the city’s increasing  number of  freedom of information requests. Councilmember Plunkett asked if the city could increase fees for services the clerk’s office provides to help offset the additional expenditure. It was also brought up that the city’s information technology department might be able to provide electronic solutions for both records retention and information services that would reduce costs. Additionally, there are solutions that all departments mentioned that IT could provide, but the IT department is understaffed in its own right.

The final presentation was from Human Resources Director Debra Humann, who went over the reductions made during the past 10 years in HR and other departments. The HR department’s staffing of one HR staff member for every 104 employees currently ranks close to the most efficient when compared with other cities, she said. Health insurance costs are the biggest concern, and the city has contracted with Wells Fargo to act as broker and find a more competitive insurance package, she added. Results of the study are expected in late September.

Each of the remaining departments made similar presentations. All seemed quite cognizant of the implications of falling revenue on operations.

All of the presentations can be viewed here.  It is a very interested read, both to see the economics involved as well as to learn  just what each department is responsible for.

A fairly large number of people attended, and most of them sat through all of the three-and-a-half-hour presentation.  Mayor Mike Cooper mentioned that a “compact” version of the presentation will be made to several organizations in the coming weeks. The actual budget will be presented by the Mayor to the Council in early October.

Edmonds resident Harry Gatjens is providing regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee. On Tuesday night, he covered the City Council’s 2010 Budget Workshop.

  1. Nice report, Mr. Gatjens. I personally appreciate the time you devote to city government affairs – and the thorough reporting you do.

    Al Compaan
    Chief of Police
    Edmonds Police Department

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