Knobloch: ‘City budget ignores common sense’December 14th, 2008 by tristan baurick
City Council Chair Bill Knobloch sent in a guest column that outlines several concerns about the city’s proposed 2009-2010 budget. Read Knobloch’s thoughts below…
As our fiscal year winds down, I am hard pressed to diplomatically describe our city’s fiscal state of affairs.
Simply put, this is the worst city budget session that I have experienced since taking office seven years ago. As we prepare to leave 2008, the city is promoting an unsustainable budget document that is programmed to guide us through 2009 and 2010.
Disturbing results for this years’ proposed final budget include the lack of emergency preparedness funding for an unexpected storm or catastrophic event that requires immediate action to repair roads, landslides or any event basic to island infrastructure. There is no money being put into the rainy day fund. Any monies destined for this fund are dependent on a city surplus property sale or money left over from the 2009 budget.
Also, the contingency fund allocation that has been used for the purpose of unexpected expenses or contingent liabilities connected to legal actions has been allocated a mere $200,000 for a budget total close to $50 million dollars. Several motions were made to increase funding for these important line items and were soundly defeated 4-2 by City Council members.
Additionally, a vast majority of grant money applications as part of the capital projects planning contained in the budget are devoted again to Winslow Way. The rest of the community lost its bid for their neighborhood improvements due to the dedicated lobbying efforts of a majority of four on council. Most of this lobbying was directly connected to a special interest group that participated in the Winslow Tomorrow, a.k.a. streetscape, a.k.a. utility project. This lobbying group includes some of our own City Council members.
A well-orchestrated effort to push through the Winslow Way project is occurring at the same time that our city revenues are falling as part of our national economic crisis. Why do we continue to spend and budget more debt as we watch other agencies and public entities reducing their debt and cost of doing business? When it comes to fiscal responsibility (reductions), politics rises to a new level of usurping community values and what is best for the residents that are paying their government’s bills.
Other solutions would provide a sustainable budget to see us through a very unknown fiscal path in the coming years. These solutions include right sizing the government for a balance with revenues and affordability. This includes number of employees as a cost percentage of administration, possible outsourcing of basic services, and obtaining the efficiencies of new technology for providing improved level of service at a lower cost.
Right now, as quoted by our city’s lead finance officer, our city’s employee salary and benefits cost is above 50 percent of a $26 million dollar total. This is substantially higher than the cost for other cities in our state. It is time to slow down, reduce spending and accumulate much needed cash for the future.
So, what can island residents expect? In the next two years water and sewer bills will rise by the assumptive rate of 28 percent. I ask, why is city council taking these actions without a rate study that occurs before, not after utility revenue bonds are purchased that obligate ratepayers before they even know what is happening?
Considering noted national economists’ commentary as well as our local economic forecasts from state agencies, I wonder if our governing body is ignoring the basic fundamentals of fiscal common sense?
Recently, President-elect BarackObama stated, when speaking about our economy, “Things are going to get worse before they get better.” So, why are we not taking action and planning for the ripple effect of economic downturn coming in 2009-2010? Increasing the burden by millions of dollars on ratepayers for one half mile of road on Winslow Way that directly benefits a small group of property owners (most of whom do not own and operate the businesses on Winslow Way) is not the answer.
If we are to have a financially sustainable place to live, emphasis must be placed on our core infrastructure needs for our entire community in a way that we can afford. Wonderful ideas for improving drainage that impacts our Puget Sound shoreline waters must be able to be underwritten.
Again, why are we not looking at repairs to our Winslow Way sewer line rather than tearing up the street and incurring long-term debt for citizens? Today, many island residents are cutting back, not adding income to their households for increased utility costs.
Finally, reducing cost of government to match our community
limited revenues while understanding that level of service will
also be readjusted as a result would be a more realistic start to
our 2009 budget. And, keeping our process of governing out in the
open while recognizing emerging problems and finding solutions is a
wonderful way to rebuild trust in these troubled times.
-Bill Knobloch, City Council chairman