Olympia braces for future financial pain while working on 2015 budget

Although the city shows a balanced budget now, Olympia faces a mounting deficit in the future unless officials can cut costs and bring in more money.

The Olympia City Council continues to discuss the 2015 operating budget and is encouraging the community to attend a public hearing at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at City Hall. Adoption of next year’s budget is expected to occur Dec. 16.

The city’s finance committee held a meeting at noon Wednesday to discuss the budget. The meeting was labeled as a “special council meeting” because a quorum of council members — up to five at one point — attended the meeting.

By 2019, the city faces a cumulative operating deficit of $3.5 million if nothing is done to increase revenue or decrease expenses, said finance director Jane Kirkemo. This projection does not include the potential costs of employee health benefits by implementing the Affordable Care Act, she said.

“The budget isn’t sustainable. Revenues won’t be sufficient enough to cover costs,” she said.

City Manager Steve Hall, who presented a balanced budget to the council last month, said Olympia doesn’t need to dip into its reserves just yet.

“There are no major cuts to programs and services,” Hall said at Wednesday’s meeting regarding the 2015 budget. “The future is not quite so rosy.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum reiterated a desire to grow the city’s revenue base through economic development and investment. The city has mounting needs that must be addressed, including building repair and maintenance, he said.

Buxbaum also drafted a memo to the finance committee with his recommendations for balancing the city’s budget. One thing to consider for funding public safety and parks, he wrote, is asking the public for a levy lid lift and/or a bond measure in 2016.

Buxbaum also recommended funding police cameras and an economic development planning position with any new business and occupation tax revenue. However, he warned that the city should delay the allocation of money that comes from the recent council action to remove the B&O tax exemption for Providence St. Peter Hospital. Although hospital officials estimate the exemption is worth $375,000, the amount is still uncertain because the nonprofit hospital’s financial records are not subject to public disclosure.

Some of the city’s unfunded needs for 2015 include: