Olympia to cut after-school programs

Money: Budget crunch deepens, city manager says

May 20, 2009 

OLYMPIA – The city will shutter its after-school programs after the current session ends in June as part of $2.6 million in budget cuts City Manager Steve Hall announced Tuesday evening.

Hall said the city’s budget situation worsened more than expected, and he anticipates the city will be $2.6 million in the red at the end of the year if the cuts aren’t made.

“The world has changed,” he told the Olympia City Council during a special session Tuesday. “Things have gotten significantly worse.”

In an interview, Hall said he wasn’t sure if there would be layoffs. It depends on how the employees who had hours dedicated to the program are reassigned.

Cutting the after-school program will save the city $35,000 for the remainder of this year. The nine-month yearly program costs $141,000.

The city’s after-school programs, at Washington, Jefferson, Reeves and Marshall middle schools, were started more than a decade ago to supervise middle schoolers when they are most vulnerable to getting in trouble, city officials have said. Aside from doing their homework, students go on field trips, do crafts and take part in other activities.

Between 70 and 80 students per day, on average, take part in the program, Scott River of the city’s parks department said in an interview. It lasts from when school lets out until 5:30 p.m., he said.

The program was slated to be cut in 2006 but was saved after an outpouring of complaints. A fee was implemented to help pay for the program – $4 per child per day, River said. But many of the participants are poor, and there is a sliding scale for payment, Parks Director Linda Oestreich said. No child is turned away, she said.

Hall said parents would receive letters informing them of the programs’ closure.

“We can’t continue business as usual,” he said.

This is the city’s second round of cuts. In December, the City Council approved a 2009 budget that cut 21.5 employee positions and reduced services.

All revenue sources were down except for gambling and liquor taxes, Hall said. Sales tax revenues from January to April were off 7.1 percent, development revenue was down 11.1 percent and revenue from fines and forfeits was down $14.2 percent. Overall revenue was down $607,000 through April.

The after-school program is the most significant cut. Hall said the city is trying to make up the rest in a number of ways. A sampling:

 • Use up the $800,000 carried over from last year’s budget.

 • Spend $380,000 in one-time taxes.

 • Use $148,000 in council “goal money,” which is unallocated.

 • Dip into the city’s reserve, pegged at $5 million by Jane Kirkemo, the city’s finance director.

 • Cut by one-third the number of seasonal hires in parks and public works, saving $145,000.

 • Defer the biannual salary survey – looking at what employees of other cities make to stay competitive. The savings is $130,000.

Discretionary spending is being reduced, there’s a “soft” hiring freeze, employees won’t be classified to a higher pay grade and the city is skimping on fuel, Hall said.

He wouldn’t rule out more layoffs. Hall expects a $2 million to $3 million shortfall for the 2010 budget year, and Kirkemo predicts even worse – a $5 million budget gap.

The city is not starting any programs or services and will not explore the public campaign financing issue, Hall said.

He said that discussions had begun about cutting employee benefits, but some council members spoke out against the idea at Tuesday’s meeting.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869

mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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