City Council gets earful on budget

hearing: Citizens list own spending priorities

Staff writerNovember 14, 2012 

The Olympia City Council held a public hearing Tuesday night on City Manager Steve Hall’s proposed $113.1 million budget for 2012.

Here’s a sampling of public comments:

 • Phil Schulte told the council that the city should institute a process to give citizens a chance to have their questions about the budget answered. He said there wasn’t enough time to digest the 300-plus-page document, as it has been released a week ago.

 • Jeff Jaksich suggested the council convene a citizens advisory committee for the budget.

 • Earl Hughes said the city needs to restore power at the Percival Landing docks, saying boaters aren’t using Percival Landing as much since power was cut to the docks. That power was cut in the last decade because of decay at the boardwalk. Some of the landing has been rebuilt, but not the area with the docks.

Hall’s original budget proposal would cut $2.5 million, including 16 positions. But that came before voters approved a sales-tax increase of one-tenth of 1 percent last week to fund police and public-safety programs. Six of those positions could be restored, including those of five police officers and a victim’s advocate in the city prosecutor’s office.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum has said the council will talk about restoring the proposed cuts. The council didn’t talk about that Tuesday night; that’s scheduled for next Tuesday’s meeting.

The council has until the end of the year to adopt a 2013 budget.

Some cuts still will be required, because the sales-tax increase is expected to generate about $1.2 million per year, not enough to make up the city’s $2.5 million budget gap.

Potential cuts include two fire positions – a fire inspector and a firefighter. An additional 2.87 full-time-equivalent positions would be cut from parks, 3.25 from public works and two from the planning department.

Employees, except for police and fire, also would be asked to pay more for their medical insurance, of which 100 percent is now covered. The proposal calls for the city to cover 95 percent.

One of the city’s main sources of revenue, its sales tax, has dropped precipitously since pre-recession levels in 2007, from about $17 million to $15 million per year.

Some utility rates also are slated to go up. The city wants 7 percent more revenue from drinking water rates, but that doesn’t mean your water bill would go up 7 percent. Rather, the city uses a tiered system, in which customers who use more water pay a higher rate.

Stormwater fees are proposed to rise 6 percent, and LOTT sewer fees 3 percent. No increase is proposed for Waste Resources (garbage) or wastewater.

The latest cuts would come after about 50 employees have seen their jobs eliminated in the past four years. Hall has restructured his departments, cut back on hiring consultants and instituted a “soft” freeze on hiring, filling only positions deemed essential.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Also Tuesday, the Olympia City Council:

 • Approved a resolution to work with Berschauer Group of Olympia on a development proposal for 30-60 apartments on a parking lot at Fifth Avenue and Columbia Street.

 • Approved an interlocal agreement with the state for obtaining environmental study funds and to manage a process to sell a piece of state property at 600 Capitol Way N. to a private developer.

 • Heard Councilwoman Julie Hankins talk about a proposal to give Earthbound Productions $5,000 in lodging tax dollars for the 2013 Procession of the Species. That’s up from the $3,500 a city advisory committee recommended but less than the $19,725 the city gave for the 2012 event. Supporters said $5,000 isn’t enough.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @mattbatcheldor

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