City of Burien faces potential ‘dire’ budget shortfall; local COVID-19 rate higher 1By Jack Mayne

Burien City Manager Brian Wilson told the City Council this week that mid-2020 was the beginning of the work needed to come up with decisions on a new city budget for the next two years, and that “we have expenditures exceeding revenues by approximately 12 percent. This is a pretty significant number, approximately $3.3 million.”

“This is something I could consider dire for the city,” he said, adding that he would be working with city staff to develop a plan to avert a deficit.

The deficit would continue and grow if it isn’t addressed now, he said at the July 6 regular session.

Pandemic shortfall
The reasons for the shortfall include the COVID-19 crisis and revenues collected that will decrease because of the impact of the virus on Burien businesses. In addition, the city will not receive the credit it received when it annexed portions of White Center. This also includes the effect and ambiguity of Initiative 976 which limits motor vehicle taxes, the car tab limitation sponsored by Tim Eyman.

“This is the first information to Council and I will be working diligently with staff over the next six months to have a balanced budget presented to Council,” he said.

Fire Chief Mike Marrs

Fire Chief Mike Marrs

Higher South King virus rate
Fire Chief Mike Marrs of King County Fire District No. 2 – which serves as the Burien fire department – said there were 406 cases of COVID-19, a higher average rate per capita than the rest of King County. There were 61 Burien residents hospitalized, “and that is higher per capita than the average.”

“The thing that is concerning for us at the fire department is those 406 cases has … a rate of about 785 per hundred thousand population and that is on the higher end of the rest of King County.”

The North Highline unincorporated area (White Center and environs) had 206 cases, “which makes their rate about 1,030 per 100,000; SeaTac is at 1,047 cases per 100,000 and Tukwila is “right at 1,000” COVID cases.

The area makes up a higher rate of cases that the rest of the county, Marrs said.

Get tested?
Another concern, he said, was that most of the cases were in the 20 to 29-year old age group. Marrs said the department was going to continue to urge people to social distance, as well as wear face coverings in public and practice proper hand sanitizing.

In answer to a question by Councilmember Kevin Schilling, he said people should get tested if they have symptoms or other special physical conditions that where they may have had direct contact with a “known COVID” situation. “Everyone in the public going out to get testing really would not be helpful.” The chief said to wait until a person gets symptoms, then get tested. City Attorney Garmon Newsom said not having symptoms does not mean person does not have COVID-19.

Councilmember Krystal Marx said “focusing on prevention is still the best messaging that we can” do and knowing about the 20 to 29 age group “is really helpful….”

Fireworks messaging
Police Chief Ted Boe said the department’s workload expands on a holiday like the 4th of July. Normally the police have “between 55 and 60 calls for service,” but on the 4th “we had 188 calls for service.” He said he would like to see more fireworks enforcement but “we did a ton of messaging this year.” He noted the rough times Burien residents are facing now has prompted him to have officers ease up a bit this ear.

He said said there wee 188 calls for service on the 4th and eight warnings given for fireworks related violations “and there were no citations issued this year.

“I take it on my back, I own it, I didn’t push as hard as I could have. We will move more down the enforcement road in the future.”

City Manager Brian Wilson told Council that the city has done quite a bit of promotion prior to the 4th to ensure citizens knew about the ban on fire works, but even so there were incidents.

The city has things to “do in terms of education,” Wilson told Councilmembers, who added there is a divisive nature in the community about fireworks or no fireworks.

Councilmember Nancy Tosta suggested the city in the future have a new discussion on perhaps permitting fireworks on specific dates and completely enforcing against them the rest of the year. Councilmember Pedro Olguin agreed with this approach, including confining the use of fireworks to a scenic place and time.

Deputy Mayor Kristal Marx said the city should take a balanced approach and “maybe a designated area.” She said no one had the necessity of shooting off fireworks on this past holiday and they know about the city ban.

Mayor Jimmy Matta said “we should have enforcement and if we have no enforcement, we should not have the rule.”

Shelter Grant
Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter told Council the city has recently been told of a State Department of Commerce shelter grant program which must be filed by July 17. She said the “The goal of the three-year grant is to expand shelter programs and to put people quickly in permanent shelter facilities and must in full operation by the end of the year.” If the city applied alone, without partners, it could receive $242,346. The city could participate with nine other cities and the county and because of the close timing, that is what City Manager Wilson said was Burien’s approach.

Praise city staff
The Council unanimously approved a proclamation praising city staff for displaying “ingenuity, flexibility, and diligence in adapting to a ‘new normal‘“ and for staff that “advocated for and sought resources for Burien businesses and community members and worked tirelessly to connect community members to the resources they needed” during the pandemic.

It also approved a proclamation recognizing July as parks and recreation month in the city.