In brief special meeting, council talks through budget amendments — with more to come Tuesday night

Councilmember Will Chen and Council President Neil Tibbott at Monday’s special meeting.

During a short special meeting Monday night, the Edmonds City Council considered additional amendments to the 2024 draft city budget, but delayed action on some of them until more information could be presented.

One of the proposed amendments, by Councilmember Will Chen, had asked Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson and his administration “to find ways to strategically reduce expenditures by $4 million,” which is 7% of the city’s proposed expenses for 2024.

According to Chen, a review of the city’s September finances reveals that the general fund “is down to $2 million” — lower than originally projected — requiring the city to dip even further into its reserves. The city council earlier this month approved a resolution declaring a fiscal emergency and authorizing the city to use general fund operating reserves for 2023 general fund expenses.

“$4 million is not enough but we have to at least show our citizens that we are doing what we can to show we are doing what we can to at least controlling our expenditures before we propose a tax increase levy,” Chen said.

Chen withdrew his motion after the council learned that City Attorney Jeff Taraday — who couldn’t be present at Monday’s meeting — requested that the item be deferred until the council’s regular business meeting Tuesday night.

Councilmember Jenna Nand said it was important to hear not only from Taraday but other “key players,” including Mayor Mike Nelson and Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who were both absent from Monday’s meeting.

Nand also said she would like to learn more from the city’s department directors on their ideas for budget adjustments.

Staff were scheduled Monday night to offer their thoughts on budget changes, although specifics haven’t yet been presented. A memo — signed by all seven of the city’s department directors — stated that a public discussion “of deep cuts to staff is cause for concern for the long-term morale of city staff, threatens retention and will hamper the provision of effective services to our residents.” President Neil Tibbott announced at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that the staff presentation was removed from the agenda.

Another budget amendment by Chen called for using $2 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to establish an Edmonds Police Department substation at the site of the former 7-Eleven store on Highway 99 and 238th Street Southwest.

Councilmembers had mixed reactions to the idea. Nand noted that the former convenience store building is now being used for office space and made a motion — which died for a lack of a second — that the city use its real estate consultant to determine the feasibility of such a purchase. Paine said she wanted to hear from law enforcement personnel about the idea and pointed to the study the council authorized as part of the 2023 budget to explore options for a police annex. Other councilmembers agreed that while the proposal had merit, it was probably premature. One of those councilmembers, Vivian Olson, said she was still interested in pursuing the idea of moving the entire police department to a different location — possibly on Highway 99. That could free up valuable downtown office space that the city could possibly sell to offset its budget shortfall, she said.

Chen expressed frustration with the delays in receiving the study that the council authorized, noting that 2023 is almost over. “We all prioritize public safety but if we don’t take action, nothing will get done,” he said.

In the end, his proposal failed on a 2-4 vote, with Chen and Nand voting in favor.

Chen also proposed an amendment that would have lowered city staff’s assumption of inflation related to labor expenses — now set at 7% in 2025, 6% in 2026, 5% in 2027 and 5% in 2028 — to 4% in the respective year. Chen said that the Federal Reserve and other credible sources are expecting the federal inflation rate to be around 2.2%, so assuming a 4% inflation rate is already conservative. 

Some councilmembers pushed back on that idea, stating it was better to have some extra cushion in the assumptions in case inflation increases. The final vote was 3-3, and the measure failed due to the tie.

A final measure proposed by Chen was to remove the assumption for 2025 that the City of Edmonds would no longer be contracting with South County Fire for fire and emergency medical services and would instead be part of the Regional Fire Authority (RFA). Chen said that the council needs to perform its due diligence regarding the costs associated with RFA annexation and it would still need to be approved by voters — neither of which could occur by 2025.

The amendment to remove that RFA assumption for 2025 budgeting was approved by a 4-2 vote.

Finally, Nand had proposed allocating $250,000 of the city’s ARPA funds  to disperse $5,000 grants to qualifying small businesses, but said she wanted to defer that idea until later in the budget process.

Regarding another budget item, Councilmember Dave Teitzel requested that the council include as a budget amendment a proposal that had already been agreed upon as part of the Capital Facilities Plan/Capital Improvement Program discussion a few weeks ago: advancing $20,000 for improvements to the Olympic Beach Park restroom from 2025 to 2024. That measure, which will be funded through real estate excise taxes and not the general fund, was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Paine voting no.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Good for advancing money for improvements to the Olympic Beach Park restroom. I can’t imagine why anyone would vote against this health and safety proposal. I guess ultimately it comes down to someone’s personal hygiene standards. Councilmember Dave Teitzel is a class act, and he will be missed.

    1. Brian, I was at the meeting tonight and my understanding is that CM Paine voted against it due to the general uncertainty with the overall budget picture. It wasn’t a vote against the project in general but more a vote against approving it *now.* And given how many CMs expressed general support for CM Chen’s police substation idea but who balked at even seconding CM Nand’s adjustment to spend $50k to look into it more, I think council as a whole is trying to be very conservative with what they do and don’t approve right now!

      1. CM Paine voted one to five NOT to spend money on something that actually needs to be done sooner than later (Symbolic vote?). CM Nand wanted to spend $50K more of money that we probably don’t have on another study about something we probably can’t even afford right now. A lame duck Mayor has gone into hiding to lick his wounds. leaving his staff hanging out to dry, and a City Attorney with a Sweetheart city contract has a sudden need to inject himself into City Council Meeting budget business. I don’t see how any of this could get much worse or more incomprehensible as to accomplishing something really positive. I think we can just plan on much higher property taxes, much higher utility rates and the city having to resort to more bonding and deficit spending. A good city government would immediately suspend all but totally necessary spending, all hiring, and all unneeded travel. Mostly we need an actual City Manager that knows what he/she is doing and a Strong City Council that actually listens to citizens who know what is needed. Not happening now, for sure.

  2. ‘”stated that a public discussion “of deep cuts to staff is cause for concern for the long-term morale of city staff, threatens retention and will hamper the provision of effective services to our residents.”
    Don’t mind me but the directors make 2 to 3 times the wages of most staff. My guess is we would be better off with 2 or 3 more staff per administrator instead of their overpaid virtue signaling budget busting lack of results. Jenna had it half right estimated inflation for workers needs to go up. And our resume building administrators need to be replaced by people that can get the job done without bankrupting us.

  3. Kudos to CM Chen for pointing out the staff’s delays in sending a public safety study to the council, pointing out staff’s over estimation of inflation in coming years, and making the budget assumption that the City will stop contracting with South County Fire and will join the RFA. If that happens, it would help the City’s budget, but would hurt it’s citizens budgets with higher taxes.

  4. The crime rate in the Hwy 99 area is evidently much higher than in the remainder of our city. A detailed proposal for how to deal with it needs to come from our Police Chief. Purchasing a property, like the 7-Eleven store, may or may not be a part of such a proposal.

  5. Re: another police location. The police chief stated several months ago that establishing an annex on Hwy 99 would not improve response time to incidents. There’s no surprises in the data on where crimes are committed. Why set up a police precinct at the 7-11 corner? Why not condemn the 2 motels where the criminals hang out, buy them, and raze the buildings and then flip the parcels. That would do a whole lot more to stimulate property redevelopment on Hwy 99 than the landmark 99 mega project would do in the near term.

  6. Theresa, This is a great idea, but how would the city be able to fund the purchase, considering our apparent state of currently being broke?

    1. Clint- The exciting discussions these days are about the general fund dollars. But we have a lot of money, in a lot of different funds. Chen was proposing spending $2M of ARPA fund money (not general fund) on the 7-11 building. In today’s council meeting, the Council wants to spend most of the ARPA fund on the fire contract costs in 2024. So assume that the ARPA fund is mostly encumbered, as of today. So I boldly propose we spend the park acquisition funds on the purchase of these crappy commercial buildings.

  7. Duly noted that councilmembers Chen and Teitzel strongly mentioned accountability to tax payers as property taxes and utility taxes were just increased substantially, stating the city must now also do their part. Appears it may be up to Mayor Pro Tem Tibbott, Council, directors, and staff to get it done. Thank goodness council is working and fully engaged in the process.

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