Federal Way City Manager Brian J. Wilson proposes eliminating 18 police officer positions during the next two years as part of major cut s to offset a $9 million budget shortfall.
Wilson proposes cutting 46 of the 301 full-time city positions – including six already vacant – to balance the budget. On the chopping block are jobs in planning, information technology, finance, parks maintenance and the mayor’s office.
Under the proposed budget, city cable TV programs would end, and there would be no cost-of-living wage increases.
The Police Department would lose the most jobs of any department. It makes up 58 percent of the city’s current annual budget of $44 million.
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Adding to the budget quandary confronting the city manager is his other job. Wilson also is the police chief. He was a deputy chief when Federal Way’s police department was formed in 1996, and he was appointed chief in 2006. In May 2009, he was appointed city manager.
“The responsibility of this position is greater,” he said. “It’s for the entire health of the city. It’s to be fair and follow the direction I’ve been given by the council.”
Wilson said he had to propose cutting police – including positions besides those of officers – to present a balanced budget as directed by the City Council.
He said it’s “unrealistic” to make up the shortfall without paring the Police Department. As part of the cuts, he said, the city’s first bicycle unit – started in January with a lieutenant and six officers pedaling through downtown – could be eliminated.
After Wilson’s proposed cuts, Federal Way would have 92 police officers at the end of 2012.
Mayor Linda Kochmar said the council might be able to reduce the cuts by diverting money from budgeted road projects. The city also seeks a grant to pay for four police officers.
“I’m pretty sure that most of our council members are going to be concerned about losing any police officers,” Kochmar said. “Public safety is our primary mission.”
However, she cautioned that one-time funds – such as siphoning monies for roads – aren’t a long-term solution.
The mayor said she already has heard questions and concerns from the public about potential cuts to police and parks.
Wilson stressed that Federal Way now has the second-lowest crime rate per capita – next to Bellevue – in the Puget Sound area. Even so, with a population of 88,760, Federal Way – the state’s ninth-largest city – has its share of violent crime making the news. On Tuesday, Federal Way police fatally shot a man driving a stolen truck who reportedly tried to run down an officer.
With the cuts, Wilson said, “An increase in crime is certainly a possibility.” Like virtually every city in the South Sound, Federal Way is faced with slashing its budget to offset falling revenue. Declining sales, real estate and utility tax revenues have caused a projected $4.5 million city deficit for each of the next two years.
Another big change coming to City Hall in 2011 is the first full year in office for Federal Way’s newly elected mayor. On Nov. 2, Federal Way residents for the first time will choose their mayor to oversee city operations, opting between City Council member Jim Ferrell and state Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way.
The mayor’s position adds $150,651 in salary and benefits to the proposed budget for 2011.
The budget also includes $194,967 in salary and benefits for a city administrator in 2011. That’s essentially the same amount Wilson receives now as city manager/police chief. The city manager position would be eliminated, but Wilson has budgeted $189,578 for police chief salary and benefits.
Wilson has been explaining his budget at community meetings before he presents his final proposed budget to the City Council on Oct. 19.
The council is scheduled to approve a budget Dec. 7, after the elected mayor takes office in late November.
Wilson said he probably will add at least $2.6 million in one-time funds – mostly from savings on a road project – to his final budget. That addition could offset some cuts.
However, Wilson said he already needs to add $1.6 million to the budget to reach a $2 million ending fund balance – a budget cushion for emergencies – that the council wants in place.
Wilson has proposed eliminating the police officer positions in stages: five at the beginning of 2011, seven at the end of 2011, and six at the end of 2012.
Federal Way expanded its police force by adding 18 officers and other positions after voters in 2006 raised the utility tax on electricity, cable television and other services from 6 percent to 7.75 percent.