Council calls for greater budget oversight

March 2, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Meeting on the same night President Barack Obama delivered a sweeping address about the economy, the City Council called for greater oversight of city spending amid the economic downturn.Officials requested monthly updates on income and spending — part of an effort to avoid budget shortfalls like those being tackled by other Washington cities and the state government. Borrowing language from the Obama administration, the council also called for a “stress test” to determine the city’s economic health.

Careful planning should prevent Issaquah from dipping into its ample cash reserves, council members and staffers said.

“It’s very nice to be in the situation we’re in,” city Finance Director Jim Blake told council members during the Feb. 24 meeting.

City reserves total about $7 million, he said.

Nonetheless, officials urged caution. At the end of the first fiscal quarter, when a clearer view of city finances becomes available, city staffers will conduct a so-called stress test to determine how well the city could weather further economic setbacks. Already, city officials predict they will collect less sales tax. Officials said the issuance of building permits, another important revenue stream, could slow as well.

“I’m of the opinion that at the end of the first quarter, we’ll know a lot more,” Councilman Fred Butler said.

Butler and his counterparts asked Blake and other staffers for monthly e-mail updates detailing the expenses of city departments, as well as the amount of money raised through permits and taxes.

Echoing themes from her Feb. 2 State of the City address, Mayor Ava Frisinger said the city’s diverse economic base should help to shield Issaquah from the brunt of the downturn.

“The budget and the revenue projections in the budget are sound,” she said.

Some of the largest generators of sales tax revenue — wholesaler Costco and discount retailers Fred Meyer and Target — provide the staple items consumers are unlikely to go without, she added.

Officials pointed to other potential boons, including the planned construction of a Swedish Medical Center campus in the Issaquah Highlands.

As city officials formulated the 2009 budget last year, they tightened spending as a result of the weakening national economy and a dip in tax revenue. A $109.5 million budget adopted by the council Dec. 15 outlined some spending cuts and delayed other projects. For example, the budget pulled the plug on spending for holiday lights and postponed a proposed remodel of the Municipal Court.

“While we are better disciplined than others, we are watchful,” Frisinger said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment on this story at

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