Sequim City Council hears grim budget news

One need only look at the table in the Sequim Transit Center lobby to gauge the city's budget situation.

The coffee pot remains but the cookies have disappeared along with the food provided to the city councilors.

It's a small but noticeable change in city operations as council and staff grapple with increasing costs and flat or declining revenue.

Other changes could include a reduced work week for city employees and reduced city services although interim city manager Robert Spinks said no layoffs are anticipated.

The council listened to budget presentations during two sessions, one on Oct. 22 and the second on Oct. 27.

The first draft of the 2009 city budget will go to the council at its Nov. 3 study session. City staff is trying to close a $725,000 gap between expected revenues and expenses in the city's $8 million general fund budget for 2009.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, Spinks said, "I believe there will be no employee layoffs," but added there would be unspecified cutbacks in services. He also would bargain with the labor unions for a reduction in the city employees' work week, Spinks said.

Ken Troup, secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 589, which represents the majority of city staff, said he had heard about layoffs and reduction in the employees' work week.

The latter is not acceptable because it the workload won't be reduced, so employees simply will be working on their own time, he said.

The city should consider cuts in discretionary spending instead, Troup said.

"The city staff doubled in size in preparation for a continued boom despite clear signs that it would end.

"These are the same managers that enjoyed spending surplus year after year and now are facing cutbacks," he said.

The economic climate is beyond the city, but its officials could have seen it coming and could have spent less, Troup said.

At the Oct. 27 meeting, police Lt. Sheri Crain said the police department's 2009 budget faces a $300,000 reduction or about 12 percent. They will focus on in-house training to save on vendor and travel costs. The department also will change its priorities to cut overtime and delay most equipment purchases including all large capital items, Crain said.

City Councilor Walt Schubert asked if any of the cuts affected health and safety, which was "not acceptable." Crain said they did not. Spinks said a detective would be moved back to patrol, which would make closing some cases more difficult.

Capital projects manager Frank Needham said at the Oct. 27 meeting that the capital projects and facilities budget includes an estimated down payment of up to $500,000 on property for a new city hall in 2009. It also includes an estimated $250,000 in 2009 for renewing the police station lease, determining future space requirements and performing due diligence on the Mego property, he said.

Remodeling the Guy Cole Convention Center for city staff to use while a new city hall is being built would cost an estimated $250,000, Needham said. Renovating Guy Cole to better serve as a conference center would cost as much as $800,000 with no identified funding,

he said.

Estimated infrastructure costs for phase two of the James Center for the Performing Arts - including streets, water, sewer, parking, lighting, landscaping and Bell Creek crossing - are between $640,000 and $1.8 million with no available funding, Needham said.

The city also could form new reclaimed water and storm water utilities to meet unfunded state mandates and provide an additional revenue stream, he said.

City clerk Karen Kuznek-Reese said besides a 38-hour work week, cuts could include discontinuing one or two study sessions and having newspapers and some city staff print off the council agenda from the city's Web site.

The clerk and deputy clerk positions, which are non-union, also have been reduced to 38 hours a week.

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