City budget: Bus service, maintenance to be delayed
December 15, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah City Jail will add a corrections officer, but parks and road improvements will be scaled back in the 2010 budget headed to the City Council next week.
The plan reflects difficult decisions as the council sought to balance savings and services amid the recession. City residents will notice changes large — fewer traffic signal upgrades — and small — only two city newsletters will be mailed next year.
Mayor Ava Frisinger proposed a leaner budget for next year for a city with fewer employees and capital projects planned. After several tweaks, the City Council plans to adopt the $99 million budget Dec. 21.
“In this economic climate, there were some difficult choices that had to be made,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said. “This is a consensus document, so no single one of us was able to control or dominate the way in which our city’s dollars are going to be spent.”
The proposed budget contains no property tax or rate increases, though a separate measure headed to the council Dec. 21 would adjust city water rates.
Officials tackled the budget after mid-year spending cuts and layoffs due to declining sales tax revenue and building permit fees — important cash sources for the city.
Schaer noted that the tough choices include maintenance delays and spending cuts — decisions outlined in a budget memo from council members to Frisinger.
The memo includes ambitious directives to re-examine the way several city departments conduct business.
“I hope the budget is indeed lean, but I hope it’s not mean,” Frisinger said.
Council considers alternatives
The council asked the city administration to study privatization options for Parks & Recreation Department facilities and programs. Staffers are due to bring the options to the Council Services & Operations Committee in the first quarter.
And, almost four years after city voters passed a $6.25 million park bond meant to improve recreation and preserve undeveloped land, the council wants updates on city open space.
Transportation cuts — through reduced roadwork and scaled-back efforts to cut traffic congestion — will mean savings for the city.
Officials will save $135,000 in city money because the budget cuts money for improvements to the Intelligent Transportation System, a series of traffic signals interconnected to smooth traffic flow. Council Transportation Committee members will review ways to pay for the system next year.
The budget also delays a planned Route 200 bus service extension to Talus and the Issaquah Highlands, although the council will revisit the issue in early 2010.
The Metro Transit route was scheduled to begin service to Talus and the highlands next September. Besides the city and Metro, highlands developer Port Blakely Communities, retirement community Timber Ridge at Talus and the Talus homeowners association would share costs for the route extension. The parties agreed last December to add the highlands and Talus to the route.
City departments — already forced to make do with fewer employees due to layoffs, a hiring freeze and a voluntary separation program — will face additional cuts.
The Building Department, for instance, will not buy a hybrid sport-utility vehicle to conduct inspections. And the city will save $5,000 with the reduced newsletter schedule. The council also wants city staffers to research a volunteer coordinator position, and offer ideas about the unpaid position to the Services & Operations Committee.
Officials will also sever ties with Outside Seattle, a Web-based tourism bureau set up to encourage Emerald City visitors to explore East King County. The measure will save $20,000 in hotel-tax revenue, but city officials left undefined how the city would work to draw tourists to Issaquah.
The council also plans to examine ways to improve safety and cut overtime costs at the 62-bed municipal jail housed in the City Hall basement. Officials want information about less-expensive alternatives to jail, like work-crew programs. A report is due in the first quarter.
Memo mirrors city goals
Before committees tackle full dockets, council members need to determine who will be assigned to the five panels tasked with reviewing and shaping legislation. The council will discuss 2010 committee assignments at a Dec. 21 Committee-of-the-Whole meeting.
The list included in the budget memo stands apart from the 2010 city goals sketched by council members and staffers during a May retreat, though the lists reflect similar themes. Goals include efforts to enhance the citywide transportation system, boost sustainability efforts and improve parks facilities and recreation programs. The annual goals list includes nods to economic development and public safety improvements as well.
Frisinger unveiled a tight 2010 budget in early October, and council members have tweaked the document since then.
“I think that the budget that the council deliberated on met many of the council’s goals for establishing cuts in the operating budget while preserving essential public services,” Councilman John Rittenhouse said. “As we deliberated this budget, I found it very easy to accept most of the administration’s recommendations.”
Other council members said the budget used less money but protected key city services.
Although the council could not predict how the economy would fare next year, Councilman John Traeger said the proposed budget “takes a pretty good shot at” addressing challenges the city faces.
But council members could be stuck in a similar position next fall, when the time comes to formulate the 2011 city budget.
“We’re going to have some even tougher choices, I think, in 2011, when these deferrals come due,” Schaer said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.