OLYMPIA - City Manager Steve Hall's proposed 2011 budget is a lesson in contrasts.
On one hand, the city will open its fourth fire station off Lilly Road in northeast Olympia, and hire 13 firefighters to staff it.
On the other, the $106.9 million spending plan would cut the city’s west side police station next year to save $27,000, and consolidate those functions in the new downtown City Hall.
Olympia police officer Larry Gabor, who works out of the station at 221 N. Perry St. N.W., said it’s not uncommon for four officers to be working there.
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“We’re in the station all the time using the phones,” he said. The report writing equipment and data terminals are there, he said.
“Reporting in the car is not really an option for us,” he continued. “Ergonomically, it’s not good to sit in your car all day long. Two, it’s unsafe. You become a target in your car.”
The budget is not final; the public will have a chance to talk back at a public hearing tonight, and the City Council will make the final decision by the end of the year. The council could restore some of the cuts, either by cutting something else or by using leftover discretionary funds from this year. The council has about $175,000 in council goal money, said Jane Kirkemo, city finance director.
If they do restore funding, Hall said restoring the west side police station is at the top of his list. The facility, which is not open to the general public, is the home for the Police Community Programs Unit. It also has the offices of the Olympia Harbor Patrol.
“It’s good to have that secure place rather than having to come all the way downtown,” he said.
If the space is cut, the officers would move into the new City Hall, said Kirkemo, the city’s finance director. Hall expects the city will begin moving functions there in March, with a grand opening in May.
The new fire station, and 13 new firefighters, are being paid by a property tax increase that voters approved in August. Police were not included.
Though there are no layoffs or major cuts as in the last two years – and even some hiring – Hall’s proposed budget continues the city’s trend during the last decade of cost-trimming each year. There would be $70,000 less for the Human Services Review Council, an interjurisdictional group that supports social services.
“When it came down to tradeoffs over core services, I just couldn’t find the money to fund it,” Hall said. There would remain $100,000 in funding for the Human Services Review Council.
The city would have no legislative adviser next year, saving $30,000. Other proposed cuts include $10,000 to the Thurston Economic Development Council and $5,000 to help maintain the Amtrak station. Some cuts were restored in the current budget because the council found other funding, but it’s unclear whether that will happen with the 2011 plan.
Though Hall is confident in his proposed spending plan, he’s worried about 2012. There are a number of unknowns. Property values are dropping, which will cost the city more than $700,000 in property tax revenue. Hall proposes tapping other accounts to make up for the loss, such as $200,000 that had been set aside for a parking garage and $100,000 in a contingency fund for capital projects, which have been coming in under budget.
These are one-time fixes, however, and 2012 looms. The city is also bracing for the unknown impact of state budget cuts, widely expected next year.
One area the city doesn’t have to worry about is liquor tax revenues – which actually increased during the recession. Two voter initiatives, I-1100 and I-1105, were defeated in the general election. The city gets about $600,000 in state liquor excise tax revenues and profits.
Sales tax revenue is flat. Hall is heartened that residential building permits are picking up.
But there’s a long way to go.
“I like to think we’ve stabilized,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult three years for employees and the public and people who rely on city services.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org
have your say
The public is invited to comment on Olympia’s proposed 2011 budget at tonight’s Olympia City Council meeting. It begins at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. S.E.