City budget meeting delayed

Only three out of seven Sequim city councilors were present at an Oct. 20 study session on the 2009 budget, resulting in the meeting being delayed two days.

"Despite our best efforts, we were unable to get a quorum for today's meeting," Councilor Ken Hays said to about two dozen people in attendance at the Sequim Transit Center meeting, which was rescheduled to 5 p.m. Oct. 22.

The council is unable to take action without a majority of its members present.

Councilors are facing tough decisions regarding maintaining, delaying or possibly cutting city staff, services and projects before the 2009 budget can be drafted. The meeting was set to provide the council and the public with background budget information and funding request presentations from outside agencies and the city's own departments so they could begin refining what will and will not be funded in 2009.

"It is very difficult to balance the budget in times of declining revenues and increasing costs," Sequim administrative services director Karen Goschen wrote to the council in its packet for the meeting.

"While staff is cutting back on expenditures, delaying equipment purchases and so forth, it does not appear likely to balance the budget without a reduction in services and staff."

So far, each department head has been tasked with determining the best way to accomplish a reduction in costs and services.

Department funding

"A reduction in services and staff could include a reduction in hours per week, reallocation of job functions, elimination of positions, or some combination thereof," Goschen wrote in her report, indicating department heads were looking at the cuts.

One proposal has been to limit the weekly hours personnel in Public Works and City Hall work, possibly shortening the workweek by half a day.

Also, the police department has put a hiring freeze into effect, leaving two positions vacant. The department will begin to train officers in-house and will defer equipment replacement until an emergency warrants a new purchase.

"(But) there are several remaining topics requiring further discussion by council" that will greatly impact how a 2009 will appear and play out, Goschen said.

Examples include council consensus to begin pursuing some form of a municipal court, the need for more discussion on which capital projects to pursue and decisions regarding outside agency funding.

Capital projects

City staff provided the council with a list of capital projects to prioritize and possibly include in the budget. The list includes the city hall construction project, a reclaimed water utility system and a storm water utility.

Expenses for the capital projects are huge, ranging in the millions of dollars, but many of the expenses can be supplemented with grants and reserve dollars dedicated to the projects, such as money that was set aside for the city hall.

But in an effort to keep the general fund reserve at $1 million toward the end of 2009, about $250,000 of increased utility tax will be diverted there instead of to the city hall savings fund, meaning it and other projects may be delayed in order to maintain as many city services and employees as possible.

The city will try to increase some revenue as well, possibly though increased fees and charges and the Transportation Benefit District assessment that is on all city of Sequim residents' ballots.

Outside agencies

While the city is struggling to pay for its own services, it also will struggle to pay for the services other agencies perform for it, such as economic development or tourism.

The city also has routinely given $30,000 to the United Way to allocate to agencies that help the poor or infirm and $100,000 to the Boys & Girls Club's, Carroll C. Kendall Unit in Sequim to operate a teen club.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, representatives from each agency will describe what they do for the city, the payback and why they should continue being funded.

Once the council has made decisions regarding what will be funded and what will be cut, interim city manager Robert Spinks will create a draft 2009 budget, which he will bring to the council at its Nov. 3 meeting.

The council and the public will have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed budget through the end of the year, when the council is expected to adopt a finalized plan for expenses and revenue for 2009.

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