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