Mayor’s 2009 budget includes 22 percent surplus

October 7, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger took the wraps off of her proposed 2009 budget Oct. 6 before the City Council, saying it balances expenditures and revenues, maintains the current surplus and sustains quality of service — all in a climate of economic uncertainty. The budget now gets a going-over by the council and department heads, who will meet regularly over the next month to fine-tune spending priorities. Members of the public, too, can attend these workshops and speak at regular City Council meetings.

Once the process has run its course, the council will approve a final budget in December.

As in every budget, this one begins with the “ending fund balance” from the previous year. This amount is the surplus, or rainy-day fund, that has accrued incrementally over several budget cycles. City officials try to keep it intact throughout the year, during which time normal revenue should cover normal expenditures without dipping into the surplus.

This year, the surplus is $7.4 million. Frisinger said that equals 22 percent of budgeted expenditures from the general fund, or roughly twice the percentage the council has established as a goal for the ending fund balance. The general fund is pegged at $32.8 million for 2009.

Revenues and expenses are both increasing 5.6 percent in 2009, Frisinger said. Population growth, however, is increasing more rapidly, at 6.5 percent. The administration is assuming a 2009 population of 26,320, up from 24,710 in 2008.

“We are providing more service, with a lesser percentage [cost increase] than population growth,” Frisinger said, attributing this to aggressive cost controls plus an efficient city workforce.

At the same time, some reductions in service may occur. One ongoing cost-saving measure, Frisinger said, is a reduction in the frequency of street sweeping; another is less frequent brush cutting in ditches. In developing the budget, Frisinger said her administration has kept the city’s policy goals in mind:

  • Sustainability: Invest in alternative development approaches, such as the zHome project, and convene an advisory panel on a “sustainability indicator sounding board.”
  • Efficiencies in government: Employ new productivity tools, software and operations procedures to streamline services.
  • Public safety: Continue to develop emergency evacuation plans for the city and emergency radio programming.
  • Smart growth: Focus growth where infrastructure already exists, such as the pending Park Pointe land swap and Central Issaquah Plan.
  • Transportation: Fund the Complete Streets program at $1.5 million and the Mountains to Sound Greenway trail on Northeast Newport Way at $800,000; continue support for the planned pedestrian overpass of Interstate 90 at state Route 900.
  • Environmental excellence: Improve riparian habitat and flood control at Squak Valley Park North; continue to implement the Natural Open Space Management Plan.

The Squak Valley Park item, Frisinger said, is an example of the kind of program that can be funded from a healthy surplus. In the past three years, $4.3 million has been spent on riparian and habitat acquisitions and improvements, notably on the East Fork of Issaquah Creek and the undeveloped Cybil-Madeline Park.

As for the current chaos in financial markets nationally, Frisinger said its effects will be felt here to some extent. Fewer would-be borrowers will be able to get loans for big-ticket items like cars and real estate, and sales tax revenues are likely to dip. The sales taxes are an important source of city revenue, but Frisinger said budget planning has accounted for anticipated reductions.

In developing the 2009 budget proposal, the administration was able to factor in cost reductions implemented earlier this year. These involved requiring departments to justify their hiring requests, and directing them to find 5 percent savings in nonsalary spending.

The controls allowed the administration to assume lower spending next year, Frisinger said.

“What it amounts to is a reduction in the level of service,” she said. “It lets us provide services to a larger population without a proportionate cost increase.”

Get involved

The City Council has begun its annual series of budget discussions leading up to final adoption of a budget in December. All meetings are open to the public.

  • Oct. 15, 6-9:30 p.m. Cougar Room of City Hall, 130 E. Sunset Way. Agenda: departments’ responses to council’s questions
  • Oct. 16, 6-9:30 p.m., City Hall, Eagle Room. Agenda: funding requests from nonprofit organizations
  • Oct. 22, 6-9:30 p.m., Cougar Room — council deliberations
  • Oct. 23, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Cougar Room — council deliberations
  • Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m., City Hall South, Council Chambers, 135 E. Sunset Way. Regular City Council meeting
  • Nov. 6, 6-9:30 p.m., City Hall, Cougar Room — council deliberations
  • Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m., City Hall South, Council Chambers, 135 E. Sunset Way. Regular City Council meeting and public hearing on the 2009 budget; council’s presentation of its changes to the administration’s budget proposal
  • Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m., Council Chambers — regular City Council meeting and budget adoption
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