The Edmonds 2013 budget

In my view the longer term solution is to reduce headcount by obtaining efficiencies by amalgamating municipalities
By Ron Wambolt | Nov 01, 2012

I want to make a few comments about the 2013 Edmonds budget. First I want to say that Mayor Earling deserves credit for presenting a budget to city council that balances 2013 revenues and expenses.

And I must thank finance director Hunstock for producing a first-class budget package.

I am particularly pleased that at last we have a budget for the coming year with figures that are compared to up-to-date estimates for the current year, as opposed to comparing to budget figures that were produced one year ago.

I have noticed that wages for 2012 are estimated to be over budget and 5.9 percent above 2011. Perhaps that is a result of the early retirement program, but I have not heard any explanation for that variance.

Speaking about wages, I believe that citizens will be pleased to see the extensive inclusion in the budget of represented, as well as non-represented, employee salary ranges.

For full transparency I would like to see this information eventually expanded to include actual salaries for the incumbents.

Achievement of a balanced budget means that it will not be “business as usual” for our city.

Citizens should acquaint themselves with the two dozen service level implications that the mayor has listed in his budget memo.

City council does have the ability to restore some of the cuts that cause those service level reductions.

The budget projects that at the end of 2013 the general fund will have a balance of $3.9 million in excess of the 16 percent contingency reserve fund.

Prudent use of some of that balance  is an option – particularly for one-time expenses like the badly needed code rewrite, and as back-up for the risk management reserve fund that could prove to be inadequate to cover the many lawsuits against the city.

Balancing the budget, without service cuts, or tax increases, will be an impossibility as long as city employees receive COLA plus 5 percent step increases every year until they reach the top of their salary range.

For 2013 those increases are expected to amount to 7 percent for both union and non-union employees. Where else in this economy, except in other municipalities, are employees getting anywhere near pay increases of 7 percent!

Unfortunately the city does not have much choice, because we need to pay competitive salaries. One solution is to reduce the number of employees as the mayor has proposed.

An alternative  is to do what FD1 did this year; they successfully sought concessions from the union and thus prevented the layoff of some firefighters.

In my view the longer term solution is to reduce headcount by obtaining efficiencies by amalgamating  municipalities; for example we could have one city the size of the Edmonds school district which includes five communities.

Action like that is unlikely to happen unless it is driven by Olympia. It is time for our state government to act.

There will be public hearings on the budget at the Nov. 5 and the Nov. 20 council meetings; I urge citizens to attend one of those meetings and tell councilmembers what you think about the proposed budget.

 

Ron Wambolt

Edmonds

 

Comments (1)
Posted by: Jim Shelton | Nov 01, 2012 10:58

      You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding salaries.  When salaries in the county and state have remained stagnant (actually decreased – go to www.ofm.wa.gov/economy/hhinc/medinc.pdf for details) since 2007 our city budget for salaries and benefits has increased every year except one.  Salary and benefits comprise the largest percentage of the General Fund and thus increases make a big impact especially in light of the well-known restriction on revenue increases.  It’s simple math – it can’t continue on.  Of course, one answer is to tax us more so that people who aren’t getting raises can pay for city employees raises.

      It is time (actually it’s overdue) for our elected officials to step up to the plate and get a handle on this.  My feeling is that Mayor Earling might understand this.  I hope the council does too.



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