Council committee learns about changes in store for city’s budgeting process

Clockwise from top: Edmonds City Council Finance Committee Members Jenna Nand and Will Chen discuss the upcoming biennial budget with Edmonds Mayor Mike Rosen, Council President Vivian Olson and Deputy Administrative Services Director Kim Dunscombe.

Changes are in the works for how — and how often — the City of Edmonds does its budget. The Edmonds City Council’s Finance Committee heard an update on this work Tuesday night, with both Edmonds Mayor Mike Rosen and Deputy Administrative Services Director Kim Dunscombe attending the virtual meeting.

The city is preparing for a shift to biennial budgeting in 2025. This means the budget is prepared and approved every two years instead of the current annual effort, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Edmonds also plans to begin a process known as budgeting by priorities.

The city council had been discussing the idea of biennial budgeting in recent years, and in May 2023 voted 6-1 to shift to the two-year process. Proponents say it allows organizations and governments to develop strategies and initiatives that span multiple fiscal years, which can be beneficial for long-term projects and programs. Most neighboring cities use biennial budgeting.

Dunscombe told those attending the finance committee meeting that the transition will mean technical changes for staff as they will be “figuring out how to do the two years at once.”

On July 2, Mayor Rosen plans to deliver a presentation to the council on what the new budgeting process will look like across the city.

The full council has scheduled a retreat for Friday, Aug. 16, during which there will be “a lot of priority-based budget discussions,” Dunscombe added.

But prior to that retreat, the city will be working to collect data from residents on their budget priorities, so that can be shared with the council. At the direction of Mayor Rosen, city staff interviewed several firms offering statistically valid surveying services, and who had previous experience conducting community surveys related to priority-based budgeting. Community and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum told the finance committee that EMC Research was selected and is now under contract with the city.

“One of the things within that survey are measures of both performance and importance,” Tatum said. “Lining those two things up gives you a lot of information about where the community does have priorities but also the gaps where you may be overperforming versus expectations and underperforming.” Several nearby cities — including Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue — conduct these types of surveys. You can see an example of the City of Kirkland’s most recent survey here.

“The community survey will be a piece of this priority-based budgeting process and we’ll have to take that information in and digest it and understand what it means with respect to our programs and services and how we put together all of our different programs to achieve objectives,” Tatum said. “It’s a piece of the puzzle.”

Tatum estimated the cost of the survey at about $38,000.

The city is hoping for 400 responses out of 12,000 calls made via both landlines and cell phones, with options that include both responding online or to a human being. “That will give us a statistically significant sample plus or minus 3-5%,” Tatum said.

EMC Research is working with the city’s department directors and the mayor to come up with a list of questions “that we think are going to be able to give us some information about the choices we are going to have to make or questions that we have about our different programs,” Tatum explained.

The mayor is putting together a community budget advisory panel and that group will review the questions, and the council finance committee will also take a look at the final survey before it is launched, Tatum said.

The survey is likely to start at the end of June and the collection of survey data should take about two weeks. The full council will receive a briefing on the survey results at its Aug. 13 meeting, which will prepare councilmembers for discussions during its Aug. 16 retreat.

Tatum noted that not everyone will have a chance to take the statisticially significant portion of the survey but the city acknowledges that other community members may want to express their opinions. The city is looking at a way to collect that data separately, and plans to work with community partners to ensure that people from underrepresented communities are included.

Rosen said that the city is also hoping to hold up to six community meetings that could also be in the form of a focus group. “So based on what the survey tells us, we might want to dive deeper into some of those subjects and those meetings could be used in that way as well. So that’s another touch point for the community,” the mayor said.

Noting concerns that community members have expressed about leading questions contained in past city surveys, Councilmember Jenna Nand encouraged the city to run the questions by the council ahead of time, so if there are any questions about methodology, those can be addressed.

In terms of reaching diverse audiences, it is very expensive for the city to obtain statistically significant results across racial demographics and also to translate it into different languages, Tatum explained. That’s why the city plans to work separately with community organizations, such as the Asian Service Center, to reach other demographic groups.

“You will lose a little bit of the statistical validity of it but we will gain a different perspective,” Tatum said.

Among other committee business Tuesday night:

The project location at City of Edmonds-owned Anway Park. (Graphic courtesy City of Edmonds)

-Parks and public works committee members approved for a future consent agenda a proposal to issue a request for qualifications for the Gateway Art Project. The goal is to create an engaging art installation at Anway Park, located adjacent to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry holding lanes. The city has received a grant designated specifically for state Creative Districts  as well as funding from the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation.

Also during that committee meeting, councilmembers approved for the consent agenda an update to a 2015 Perrinville stormwater flow reduction study that will be performed through an interlocal agreement between the cities of Edmonds and Lynnwood. The committee also agreed to forward to consent a professional services agreement with Hererra to conduct the study. Edmonds and Lynnwood acquired a $469,200 Department of Ecology grant, which requires $82,800 in local matching funds from both cities. While some projects were completed to address stormwater flow issues identified in the 2015 study, the new study will reevaluate remaining projects and also update the hydrologic modeling, planning level cost estimates and geologic characterization. Additional sites not included in the original list will be considered and added if feasible and cost effective.

– Public safety-planning-human services-personnel committee members sent to a future consent agenda a proposal to list a 1926 home at 428 3rd Ave. N. on the Edmonds Register of Historic Places. Described as Dutch Colonial residential construction from the early 20th century, the home is in style of Merritt Homes.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

  1. As a fairly long term resident of Edmonds, and a long term CEO of a behavioral healthcare organization, I do not support the City of Edmonds moving to an every two year budget. Things can easily get out of control in certain expenditure categories, which then, becomes a game of trying to rein in expenses as the overspending continues to happen over the two year budget! Maintaining an annual budget process provides more control and oversight from the City Council, and the citizens of Edmonds.

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