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Budget update approved by Council over objection that homeless are ‘overlooked’

by Jack Mayne [1]

The Burien City Council approved changes midway into its two-year financial plan and budget over the objections of Lauren Berkowitz Monday night.

At the Dec. 7 Burien Council meeting, councilmembers also decided to increase the amount of money dedicated to the city’s reserve fund, again with Councilmember Berkowitz complaining that the cold and hungry homeless of Burien were being overlooked for what she called a “low interest savings account.”

Reserve is ‘wise idea’
City Manager Kamuron Gurol said a reserve was a wise idea in case of sudden and unexpected drops in the city’s income from changing sales tax revenues or other revenue changes in order “to maintain key city services.” The budget revision included a proposal to increase the city’s reserve fund, a fund that has been in the budget at various levels over, but much lower in the past few years because of the flagging economy.

The city manager said a reserve fund also helps the city to save if there was a need to get a loan with favorable interest rates to handle a big, unexpected project.

“The higher the city’s credit rating, the lower the interest rate we pay,” Gurol said, adding that the reserve was near the 20 percent of the general fund and has hopes of getting the full reserve amount in the 2017-2018 biennium budget that will be negotiated by the Council next year.

Berkowitz said she didn’t think these financial policies make the city safer.

Rainy day now
“A rainy day fund should be used when you hit a rainy day,” she said. “If you go outside and talk to people who are living in the cold rain right now and tell them maybe we look next year at the 2017-2018 biennium budget increasing the human services … I don’t think you would get a lot of understanding from people who need that support right now.”

Berkowitz said she found the financial policies “really untenable and heartless and I will not be voting for them,” adding that increasing the reserve fund was “making a large fund even larger.”

Councilmember Gerald Robison said the city needed to have a “reasonable reserve amount” in order to fulfill the Council’s promises to taxpayers,

Berkowitz was the only member to vote against approving the amendments to the city’s financial policies.

Budget changes approved
The Council went on to take up amending the actual 2015-2016 budget, which it eventually approved on a 6-1 vote, again with Berkowitz voting against it.

She renewed her objections of what she saw were no budget increases in money for the homeless, increased police spending, lower cost of living allowance for city staff than was budgeted, as well as increased lighting for Town Square and Dottie Harper Park.

There is “absolutely no data to show this will make us safer, no data to show that these are the places where it is needed – we were unable to have a discussion or even get from staff where the data might be found.”

Robison said the Council’s cost of living increase for city staff is at the full 1.1 percent inflation rate projected by the Consumer Price Index, not lower as Berkowitz said. An earlier budget estimate of 2 percent was only used before the latest CPI was compiled.

Berkowitz said there was nothing to show that increased police costs would make people safer, noting that the increase was not for more officers, but for “increased administrative overhead so it is not even for what people are asking us for …”

‘False’ comments
She said has heard “several comments that are false over the last two weeks that I have voted to slash police funding and I’d like to point out that that is not what is happening.

“I am voting to not increase police funding, I am voting not to increase jail funding – and there is a major difference between the two.”

Councilmember Debi Wagner said the increased police cost was following the completion of a union contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office that contracts with Burien for its police.

Berkowitz also objected to the increased costs of the jail in Des Moines operated by a consortium of area cities.

“It is a little bit frustrating to me,” she said. “We should be decreasing our pro-rata share of the use of the jail rather than just paying more and incarcerating more people. Again, we have no data that this is making us safer or what we are arresting people for … I can only wonder if it is related to our trespass ordinance …”

She said the city should be addressing people’s needs, “not punishing people especially when we don’t know why we are punishing them …”

Robison said it is a good idea to have fewer people in jail, but the increase comes from a “relatively small number of people who count for a very high percentage of the jailing.”

Often these people are required by state law to be in jail and “something we don’t have control over.”

Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta said she supported the idea of increasing social service spending but noted the matter before the Council was a mid-biennial correction and could be taken up next year when the new budget is up for consideration.

Changing truck route
Robison pushed to remove the truck route designation from Military Road north of 128th and instead designate 128th a truck route from Military Road to Des Moines Memorial Drive.

Mayor Krakowiak wanted to get more information on the change before deciding on the change. Berkowitz also wanted more time to get “citizen engagement” to determine the impacts of the change.

City Manager Gurol also wanted time for the public works staff to look into the change.

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