City Council eyes 5 percent cuts

November 4, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Holiday lights are first to go

The gathering storm clouds of the economy have put a chill into the City Council, who on Oct. 29 decided to cut 5 percent from the city’s 2009 budget — just in case.

Their action came during a discussion in City Hall, where council members and administrators have been going over the administration’s proposed 2009 budget with a fine-tooth comb. The budget already is a cautious one, with little extra spending proposed, but council members thought it prudent to be even more conservative.

After a discussion over which strategy to pursue — either making cuts first or establishing a goal and cutting toward it — the members adopted the latter and Councilman John Traeger’s suggestion to whack another 5 percent from expenditures. The figure is based on a projected drop in sales tax revenues of the same magnitude.

That works out to about $400,000, which the council intends to take out of the general fund and capital projects budgets. Members asked City Administrator Leon Kos and Finance Director Jim Blake to recommend possible cuts, but they also went through the budget book themselves to see what might be eliminated.

Hiring is one obvious candidate, with some council members suggesting that open positions not be filled. Construction is another target.

“I would go after some of the larger capital improvement projects right now, and see what that does for us,” said Councilman Fred Butler.

While skimming quickly through the budget book, the group found a few specific items to consider for cuts or deferral to a later year. Among them were replacement of the tent at Tibbetts Manor; hiring a part-time worker to handle water blending at Public Works Operations; and improvements to Northwest Dogwood Street.

In one case, the council went farther than proposing a cut — they actually did it. That was a $5,600 expenditure for holiday lights, which fell by the wayside on a 4-3 vote.

“This is terrible,” Butler exclaimed. “Bah, humbug!”

In previous discussions, the council already had eliminated spending for a remodel of Municipal Court and utility work for a new trolley barn.

Some possible deferrals were suggested but rejected. Among them was to put the ongoing development of a new Central Area Plan on hold, to save staff time in the Planning Department, but the council agreed that it was better to finish the job now that so much time, effort and public involvement has been invested in it.

Also spared was the hiking and biking path along Newport Way Northwest between Lakemont Boulevard and Oakcrest Drive.

And even though rumors of the possible elimination of city support for nonprofits put a scare into those organizations, the City Council quickly quashed any such fears. All members enthusiastically supported keeping the city’s “meager” funding intact, saying it was an investment that generated huge benefits to the city from such groups as Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, the DownTown Issaquah Association and Village Theatre.

Otherwise, Kos and Blake were directed to prepare a list of possible cuts in time for the council’s next meeting, Nov. 3 — a challenge that Kos answered with some humor.

“We’d like to find out what your priorities are and cut those,” he told the council.

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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