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Washington Voices

Liberty Lake department heads trying to cut costs

The Liberty Lake City Council heard an accounting from the city’s department heads of what they were doing to reduce costs.

Community Development Director Doug Smith told the council the staff has been working to shave expenses from the budget since the economy turned in 2008.

During that time, the city had a budget of $5.8 million in its general fund and managed to save $934,353. In 2009, the city’s general fund budget was much smaller – down to $4.7 million. Even with the smaller budget, the staff managed to save $216,950.

This year, the budget for the general fund was $4.5 million. Smith told the council he anticipates a savings of $168,000.

“We understand that this conversation is ongoing,” Smith said.

Administrative Services Manager Jessica Platt said her department spends the most on salaries, wages and benefits. Although her staff did not receive a cost of living adjustment raise in two years, medical benefits have increased by 10 percent each year.

Staff has not been able to receive additional training in that department unless it is free or required by state law. She said the standards of conducting city business change often and it is important for the staff to keep up with them.

The department has no copy machine and has deferred purchasing equipment, such as waterproof and fireproof filing cabinets for important city records. A valve leak in one of the restrooms in 2009 flooded the room that housed the city records. The records had to be dried out. Since the flood, Platt said she is unsure if the filing cabinets would be effective during a fire.

Council member Susan Schuler asked Platt if it was possible to get the budget data from the departments from 2006 and 2007, hoping to find some trends in the budget.

Mayor Wendy Van Orman said the staff collected data from 2008 to 2010 because 2008 was when the economy started to make a turn for the worse.

Smith said the staff can get those numbers as well.

The council also heard from Police Chief Brian Asmus who said that all but eight percent of the public safety budget is contractual, such as the jail contract, dispatch, Emergency Management Services and contracts to maintain technology for the department.

The police department has postponed getting any new equipment, including a new patrol car and a new printer. The department has one printer which is 15 years old and was donated to the city.

The department has 10 fulltime equivalent employees and three volunteers.

“This is one area that is a mandatory service (by state law),” Van Orman said.

Council member Ryan Romney asked the chief how many patrolmen the city has on duty at a time.

Asmus said the department provides service 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. During that time, if none of his employees are on vacation, on sick leave or out for training, there are two patrolmen on during the day and two at night.

Right now, one of the patrolmen is out of the office for military service for two weeks, so there is only one officer on patrol during the graveyard shift.

Asmus said that any cuts to his staff may result in a reduction of services, or a change in operations. Asmus and the city’s detective are on duty during the day, but not out patrolling. A reduction in staff could put those two out on patrol.

“It could happen, but it would be a reduced level of current services,” Asmus said.

The council also heard from department heads of parks and streets, planning, recreation, the library and the golf professional.

Van Orman advised the council to e-mail city staff with any more questions. Schuler said she noticed that many budgets had been reduced due to reallocating funds to other departments, and she asked for an accounting of that.

“Cost shifting doesn’t represent true cost savings,” said Council member David Crump.