LETTER: ‘I Urge Any Resident that Cares About Fiscal Responsibility to Show Up’ to Monday Night Meeting


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Dear B-Town:

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. Broadcast policy decisions.
    The radio station costs for a station that does not reach some of the residents and gives no pertinent information.
  7. Council policy on the budget.
    How does it contribute to city resources and transparency of the budget to the public?
  8. 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?
  9. 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.

Best Regards,
John Poitras

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Comments

18 Responses to “LETTER: ‘I Urge Any Resident that Cares About Fiscal Responsibility to Show Up’ to Monday Night Meeting”
  1. Debi Wagner says:

    My family will be there to protest outside the council. We will be holding signs that say HONK IF you’re opposed to annexation. If you don’t want to join the meeting come to my protest. If you don’t want to come to the protest, drive by and HONK your vote at 7:00 p.m.

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  2. Chris says:

    ***yawn***

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  3. John Poitras says:

    Debi the ho hum lack of reaction reminds me of when the housing bubble was at its peak and people like lemmings blindly bought into the fiscal insanity, with no questions asked.

    The problem with that is that the piper will expect payment eventually and unfortunately it is the residents that will be the on the hook for it.

    Its also very probable that just like the bursting of the housing bubble the perpetrators won’t be held accountable, (until the 2013 city council elections that is).

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    • SD says:

      John/Debi, I’m listening — and I appreciate the time and effort you and others have devoted to help us understand the complexities, risks and benefits associated with annexation. The Council cannot ignore the city’s projected deficit, let alone how the reduction in property tax revenue will impact the city’s ability to fund and support Area Y, if annexed. If there is not ample time to gather and review current financial data/projections prior to August 7, then I agree, the Council should postpone the annexation vote until they and the citizen’s of Burien have a good understanding of the economic impact.

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  4. B Towner says:

    “Yawn Yawn”

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  5. Fred says:

    The HIghline Times ran an announcement that the citizens were to give public comments on the budget policies. However, the policies that are to be considered didn’t even come out for citizens to read until this weekend before the meeting. So go to Page 73-83 of the Council packet to see if you can even figure out which polices they are discussing. Again this is another hide the marble game because it is next to impossible to follow the document while reading. Some of the proposed changes are highlighted and some are not. The implications of what the changes are supposed to be discussed on page 71 but when you get to page 71, you are told you will find out what they are during the powerpoint pressentaton which will be shown at the meeting. Hard to comment on what you haven’t seen. The bottom line is the the proposal from the city staff is to increase taxes and change the policiesto allow this. No other options are being offered to citizens or the Council. There is not attempt to really examine the budget and how it can be trimmed. And why do we need to built up this reserve with new taxes? Because we can not afford to cover the devasting costs the city will be faced with at the end of 10 years if it allows annexation. For the yawners on this blog, be prepared to open your check book to more taxes and less service. Yawn your way to the bank to deposit more money in your accounts to cover your new tax bill. Try to yawn that reality away.

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  6. Kingston2012 says:

    At this point, the efforts against annexation should probably go to convincing the residents that will vote, to oppose it. It’s obvious that this council and city manager are power-hungry, big government types who feel NO obligation for accountability. They will always feel that more government is better and raising taxes is legitimate to serve THEIR wishes. Unfortunately, protesting now simply falls on the deaf ears of these incompetent stewards of the public welfare (maybe they and the yawners will understand sign language – I’ll start with two fingers, if you know what I mean). Hopefully, the protests will make local newscasts and/or be featured in this blog. However, I feel that our only hope is to elect individuals that want to provide the accountability that John noted in his letter. We really need Tea Party-types to run for office, especially at the local level. Tea Party members are selfless and truly community-oriented. Less taxes, less government and no unions! Keep up the good work John, and keep up the good work, Debi!

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  7. Hotrodgal says:

    Sounds like the citizens need to demand an audit of Burien’s finances.

    We need to demand oversight and to question every check that is cut
    or fire the whole d@mn lot of them..

    With the still unhealthy economy and so many underemployed, having the city
    boost it’s pocketbooks for future dubious expenditures is insane…might as well
    consider it a fund to pay for cost overruns and pet projects (red light cameras
    and fancy public art come to mind).

    If we added up all the expensive cosmetics Burien has spent their (our) public funds
    on alone, the city would surely have enough surplus to attend to the basic needs
    they so want to slash.

    We also need to examine why Burien continues to be so financially unfriendly to businesses.

    What a mess.

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    • Frances says:

      If you want to see an audit of Burien go to the Washington State Auditor’s website – Its there

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      • John Poitras says:

        Frances I fail to see how your comment has any relativity to the subject under discussion.
        I think you may have missed the thrust of what was stated in the letter.
        We can discuss audits at another time.
        What is being discussed here is coming up with a fiscally responsible budget for the next couple years and using data with numbers that reflect the current reality.

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  8. Ed Dacy says:

    These numbers are not uncommon at this point in the Budget process.

    As stated at the last meeting the Revenues are understated and the Expenses are over stated.

    This is NO BIG DEAL now

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  9. Ed Dacy says:

    On North Highline not in the Finanical Forecast – its NOT a part of Burien at this time.

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    • John Poitras says:

      ED:

      I don’t want to criticize you personally but from a financial forecast viewpoint what you state is not germane.

      We all know its NOT part of Burien YET.. that’s a given>>> the POINT is CAN WE AFFORD IT? That’s the whole purpose of proposing BUDGETS that are for the FUTURE. Apparently from everything I can gather the annexation of area Y is a done deal as far as the city is concerned and their allies on the NHUAC.. THEREFORE WE NEED TO PLAN FOR WHAT IT WILL COST!
      The estimates as was stated in the letter vastly UNDERSTATE the revenues that were originally forecast and the expenses are NOT overstated they are in fact also UNDERSTATED.
      This is cause for great concern.. Brushing it off with one liners just does not cut it here… sorry but we need to face reality and stop living in fiscal fantasyland.

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  10. mike says:

    Its just business as usual. They had their chance to get it right and remove annexation from the ballot but only three council members listened to the speakers. It must have been about 20 speakers against annexation. Where was Rose Clark?
    Its mind boggling that there were that many against and half the council ignored them. It sure looked like Martin was sweating bullets. Its too bad he cant over ride the council and end the charade.

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  11. Rick says:

    The City of Burien embracing White Center via annexation is akin to purchasing a garbage dump down the street as a real estate investment for our future!. How does it serve/benefit the City of Burien community in general? The City of Burien is $800,000.00 in the hole at this time……..just wait until it welcomes White Center and brings it in too the fold. As the BTO song says,”Ya ain’t seen nothing yet!” One simply has too ask, “How in the world does this benefit us financially as municipality? It doesn’t however those involved in the City of Burien government obviously know more than you and I. Possible theory ….just follow the money? Just asking……. saying. Potential personal financial gain for those in favor? Think about it.

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    • TcB says:

      A garbage dump? Again I ask this question. Let’s pretend there were no people at all in this area. Would there be anyone who would argue that annexing this empty parcel of land would be a bad idea for the city of Burien?
      Ok, then let’s pretend that the area is 100% white population. Is there any one arguing that it would be a bad idea?
      Ok now let’s look at the reality. The reality is…shocker…..the people who live there are “not like us” “they’re poor!” “They’re minorities!”
      And let’s not forget “It’s a garbage dump! (of humanity)”
      How does this benefit us financially? Does everything have to be based on this concept? Are you a religious person (as most are)? What about caring for your fellow? Can we help build this community through 50 years? 100 years? Do you think that it will never change for the better? What the hell is wrong with you?

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    • Shari says:

      I’m actually not trying to stalk TcB tho it appears I am. Rick, I actually share your fiscal concerns because Burien’s financial boat doesn’t seem all that steady to me right now and I’m trying to make some kind of sense of various sets of seemingly contradictory financial claims (proving the adage ‘if you torture the data enough, they will confess.’). However, when I read your comment I immediately thought of the “chocolate garnished with lark’s vomit” bit from Monty Python. Wow.

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