Mayor: city budget balanced but not sustainable
EVERETT - Everett’s budget is stable and modestly growing, but city leaders acknowledge the city’s long-term financial future faces challenges.
The city will operate on a $113.2 million budget next year for the general fund, which pays for day-to-day expenses. The city runs on $500 million a year overall.
Projected revenues are up a modest 1.3 percent from this year to $113.5 million.
The budget includes a 1 percent property tax rate increase.
The city is again balancing its budget, though, by continuing to defer major expenses such as contributing to its public safety pension funds and by eliminating vacant positions. The city has culled 25 vacant positions since 2009 and is budgeted to employ about 740 people next year. It is set to prune seven vacant positions next year.
Mayor Ray Stephanson called this budgeting method unsustainable in his annual budget address last week. He has called on department directors to find solutions to find cuts to help fix the city’s structural deficit.
“I believe that the time has come for us to acknowledge that our revenues will not recover quickly enough to avoid taking more difficult measures to safeguard the city’s finances over the long term,” Stephanson said.
The city cut down a $10 million deficit mainly through these deferrals and position cuts, and did largely the same deferrals in past years.
Stephanson has said previously part of the issue is labor costs, which take up 70 percent of the general fund budget.
“If revenue is growing 1.2 percent or 1.5 percent a year and your expenses are growing at 3 percent, this is not a sustainable model,” Stephanson said in August. “We’re working very hard to find in our negotiations that balance to be competitive and paying competitively and at the same time looking for ways to control our labor and medical expenses, it’s critical.”
Throughout the Recession, the city has not laid anyone off.
Stephanson highlighted this year’s accomplishments in the annual address, including the new municipal courthouse, Foss Maritime’s expected arrival at the former Kimberly-Clark mill site and securing funds for the renovation of Sen. Henry M. Jackson Park.
He also highlighted the city’s fruitful lobbying to have Washington State University locate a four-year university branch next to Everett Community College.
The City Council is required by law to approve a balanced budget by law by Dec. 31.
The council is scheduled to hold budget meetings on Nov. 20, 27 and a final meeting and public hearing Dec. 4 at the City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave.
The public can speak out on the proposed budget through Wednesday, Nov. 13, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave. The public also can speak up on the formal budget at the Dec. 4 public hearing.
The 2014 proposed budget can be read online at www.everettwa.org/default.aspx?ID=2151.
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