Between $3-6 million in city budget cuts loom

Look below for my story on last night’s City Council endorsement of a giant reduction in city spending. Staff cuts are a sure thing, according the administration.

The City Council aimed for the ballpark rather than the bulls-eye when endorsing a dollar amount that will guide a new round of budget cuts.

Somewhere between $3-6 million in reductions loom ahead, making it a near certainty that several city employees and services will have to go.

“It’s hard, but history does show we’ve been overly optimistic,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil, referring to recent budget reductions the city’s been forced to make as revenues spiraled downward.

The city’s new financial outlook is based on worst-case scenario projections provided by City Administrator Mark Dombroski last week.

While Dombroski predicted the city may see shortfalls of $2.4 million in tax-based revenues and about $1 million in other areas, some councilors wanted to prepare for even greater losses.

Councilman Bill Knobloch proposed the biggest cuts, arguing that the city should cut $7 million from the budget to keep the city’s finances solid and put over $2 million in reserve.

Some city staff expressed confusion about how to factor in the wide ranging $3-6 million
amount as they look at how to make reductions.

Steering clear of multiple reduction scenarios, Dombroski said he’ll present to the council next Wednesday a detailed breakdown – “from staff to supplies” – of how much each of the departments spend. From there, the council can determine where to make cuts.

“I want to avoid a tennis game where I lob up numbers and sped the next two months going back and forth with the council while the economy continues to deteriorate,” Dombroski said.

Dombroski predicted the cuts will be deeply felt at City Hall and in the community.

With tax-supported wages and benefits amounting to almost $10 million, or more than half the city’s 2009 budget, Dombroski said staff will likely take a hard hit in the coming weeks.

Other large parts of the budget include $2.5 million for professional services and contracts with community groups, such as the Bainbridge Arts & Humanities Council and Bainbridge Island Television.

Knobloch said he’ll vote against any reductions to community organizations, preferring instead to restructure city government and cut city staff. Vancil also said funding the organizations is a top city priority.

Several members of arts and social service groups told the council that city funding is needed more than ever.

“We’re hanging on by our fingernails,” said Bainbridge Boys & Girls Club director Patrick Murray, noting a 20 percent enrollment increase in recent months.

Bainbridge Youth Services Executive Director Lori Midthun said her counselors at Bainbridge High School have seen more teenagers in the last three months seeking help for anxiety and depression related to financial challenges at home.

The Heath, Housing and Human Services Council, which distributes a portion of $501,000 in city funding to the Boys & Girls Club, BYS and other groups, is hoping to enter into discussions with the council this week on how it can retain funding.

But some councilors predict that the days of generous spending are over, especially as the real estate and construction markets – which formed the bulwark of city revenues – have crumbled in recent months. Some city officials are now looking at how the city built its budget before the housing bubble.

Noting that 2009’s tax-supported revenues are starting to look closer to the $15.5 million level of 2004, Councilwoman Kim Bracket said the city had perhaps swelled its spending to match an artificially inflated housing market.

“Maybe we’ve never been more than a $15.5 million city,” she said. “Maybe we should go back to that.”

One thought on “Between $3-6 million in city budget cuts loom

Comments are closed.