City Council questions budget balancing
October 22, 2013
By Peter Clark
The Issaquah City Council dove into the mayor’s proposed budget Oct. 14 and brought large questions about the use of ending fund balances.
While the majority of remarks made in the first televised meeting of budget season from the council concerned relatively small matters, members called into question the matter of pulling money out of the ending fund balance in order to correct over-spending or lack of revenue in individual departments.
According to the mayor’s budget, fiscal year 2012 had a beginning fund balance of $8.77 million in the general fund. In 2013, there was a beginning fund balance of $8.15 million. Next year has a budget of $7.97 million in its beginning fund balance and an expected ending fund balance of $7.55 million. This is compared with general fund expenditures that have risen by almost $5 million since 2012.
Councilman Tola Marts asked city Finance Director Diane Marcotte why the ending balance of every budget cycle shrank while budget revenues and expenditures grew. His concern was compounded by the fact that the funds did not evaporate through reserve use, but were expected to shrink.
“The question is whether or not we are on a sustainable path,” Marts said.
Councilman Paul Winterstein echoed the sentiment.
“There’s consternation about using the ending fund balance to balance the budget,” he said. “So, sell me on that. Justify that to me. Help me understand that.”
City Administrator Bob Harrison said the struggling economy affected the way the city budgets.
“You can see there’s a gap,” he said, admitting the ending fun balance dips. “We’ve tried to ratchet down some expenses that we can and it’s been relatively stable coming out of the recession.”
Marcotte understood the questions as part of the budget process.
“This conversation is not surprising to me,” she said. “This is really where you are making your decision and I will whole-heartedly try answer your questions.”
With three more council meetings on the budget to come, including two public hearings, the members agreed to continue a discussion on the matter and asked for a clear strategy and defense from the administration.
The next City Council work session budget meeting will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at City Hall South, 135 E. Sunset Way.