LETTER: ‘I Urge Any Resident that Cares About Fiscal Responsibility to Show Up’ to Monday Night Meeting
Last week the City Finance Dept. revealed that the Burien budget will be short approx. $800,000 for the years 2012 and 2013 due to reduced property values/revenues. The only option shown for this shortfall is increasing taxes.
No one on the Burien City Staff has even begun to discuss how they plan to deal with the revenue shortfall in the North Highline/Area Y.
They have not shown how this changes the assumptions made by the 2011 Berk Report even though the property tax revenue shortfall for the annexation area is more than double that of the current City of Burien.
On Monday night Aug. 6, 2012 at the City Council meeting, there is a public hearing on the budget but there is no proposed budget for the citizens to review or any proposals of what actions the city plans to take to resolve the current revenue shortfall.
How can the public intelligently comment on a budget or the details of it when they have not been given access to it?
Try going online to look at the basic details about the city, they are next to impossible to find. The staff directory is not up to date and who knows if the staffing units (FTE) are even correct. There is no way to find out how many staff members they have on outside contracts that may be driving costs up.
There is no display of how many special contractors they have used this year or plan to use next year. These contracts significantly drive costs up.
For example contractors in the last two years have included: Parks and Recreation, Best Available Science, Transportation, Drainage, Visioning, Citizen Surveys, Annexation, Berk Reports, National Economic Study Data to mention a few.
The Comprehensive Plan update is not due until 2015, so all of that spending did not need to be front loaded into the budget. Portions of it will apparently need to be redone/repaid, at added cost to Burien taxpayers, if the annexation of North Highline/Area Y goes through.
The City Manager can write multiple contracts of up to $25,000 without the approval of the Council. How many of these contracts are out there? What is the policy on contractors for the city in times of recession? The answers to these questions require a transparency that appears to be sadly lacking at this time.
When businesses or public agencies are facing less money they usually go into a study mode and each department is normally required to list expenditures that can be cut without eliminating legally required services. We have seen none of that information from the city staff.
In my humble opinion here are just a few suggested areas/policies that the city might look at for cuts rather than tax increases:
- Parks and Recreation policy on services and staffing.
The number of recreation assistants and the number of staff devoted to the arts, the big thick recreation booklet that is being mailed at least 2 times per year, the amount of money put out for arts grants per year, contract costs for park maintenance, money currently being diverted to annexation promotion?
- Growth and development staffing and hiring policies.
It is not clear how many planners they have on staff and on contract but in this economic recession there is less planning and permitting. Staffing policies should require any new hires be more diversified in their skill sets so we don’t need to hire so many contractors and consultants.
- City Manager staffing policy decisions.
We need to look at the benefit package for the City Manager, why are we paying for an assistant to the city manager that is devoting 75% of their time to annexation? How much contact time is being given to Steve Bodkin/PR as he is now devoting a portion of his time to annexation. In this day and age there are less expensive alternatives to outside contracted publications.
- Economic Development policy decisions on staffing.
There has not been much work in this area for years so is it really necessary to have warranted a full time position at director level? Can we afford to pay a consultant $100,000 at this time?
- Police policy decisions on staffing.
The Police take the lion’s share of the budget with 70.87 staff (pg.18 Berk Report) but there is no display of staff that is easy to access and evaluate.
- Broadcast policy decisions.
The radio station costs for a station that does not reach some of the residents and gives no pertinent information.
- Council policy on the budget.
How does it contribute to city resources and transparency of the budget to the public?
- Is annexation really affordable now and if so how are we going to compensate for all the current revenue shortfalls? By raising taxes?
City Hall-facilities, staffing and raises during times of recession or economic shortfalls and operations costs?
- Public works policy.
Is there a policy to reduce/delay spending during recession?
One council member proposed eliminating human services and animal control without even seeing the data or a staff self study. This type of approach is not what I am advocating. I suggest a responsible common sense review of where cuts can be made.
The 2011 Berk Report-page ES-7- says that $23 million needs to be diverted up to Area Y storm water mitigation within 5 years if the area is annexed. The City of Burien now only brings in $2.4 million dollars per year in storm water fees. The budget will be millions of dollars short. So where will all of this money come from other than new taxes to make up the revenue shortfall for a mandated expenditure?
It’s pretty obvious to me that we cannot afford annexation at this time and we need to review where our current expenses can be cut to cover the shortfalls we have now. The council has not really taken up this discussion nor has the city manager urged this discussion.
Annexation can still be removed from the ballot up until August 7.
I urge any resident that cares about fiscal responsibility to show up at this meeting and comment about removing annexation from the ballot.
We need to see the kind of transparency that should be shown on the current budget shortfalls and how the city plans to pay for it without raising taxes.
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