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Liberty Lake City Council approves budget

Sat., Dec. 25, 2010

Spirited discussion precedes unanimous vote

The Liberty Lake City Council has been discussing its budget for 2011 since the summer months, trying to find extra avenues of revenue and looking into ways to cut expenses. Finally, after months of discussion, painful cuts and adding a 6 percent utility tax, the city council unanimously approved its budget.

The vote on Tuesday did not go without a discussion of combining the golf course superintendent and the park superintendent positions.

Since last week’s special meeting, city staff and Mayor Wendy Van Orman created a job description and pay schedule for the newly created position that allowed the city to restore the golf pro position to full time instead of seasonal.

Van Orman said they ran comparisons of the job description with those listed in the Association of Washington Cities and found the salary of that job would be equal to that of retiring Park Superintendent Michael Curry.

There was some discussion, however, that since the job would now include Trailhead Golf Course the salary should be higher than what the city was paying before.

“I’m not convinced that now it doesn’t warrant an increase in compensation,” Councilman Josh Beckett said.

Van Orman said the comparison was based on job description, not acreage of land.

The council heard criticism for eliminating the golf course superintendent position from both former Mayor Steve Peterson and former Councilman Scott Bernhard.

“I don’t see how you can eliminate one person from the budget and not be accountable for the level of service to Liberty Lake,” Bernhard said.

“It’s imperative that we don’t look at people as cost-saving devices,” Peterson said. He said the city needs to maintain its quality staff members.

Councilwoman Judi Owens said she took exception to the characterization that the council didn’t care about Liberty Lake’s employees. She said that since the original budget was proposed, the council has found ways to restore four positions within the city and will continue to make modifications to the budget once more funding arrives.

“We are charged with holding the finances of the city in check,” Owens said.

Beckett agreed with Owens’ assessment of the council’s intentions.

“I agree with Judi,” he said. “We have not disregarded the impact (of the council’s actions).”

During last week’s special meeting, Peterson said he didn’t think the budget situation was as dire as what the council was predicting.

“I hope Mayor Peterson’s projections are right,” Beckett said. He said he hopes the economy turns around and the council will be able to increase the pay of city employees. “I hope that with the same effort you’ve exhibited here you’ll be there with me.”

“I do value the employees a lot,” Beckett said.

Councilman David Crump hoped the council could have regular discussions regarding the budget in the coming year, so there isn’t a hard push at the end of 2011.

“I’m hoping for really good numbers, but I’m a bit more pessimistic,” Crump said.

The next Liberty Lake City Council meeting will be held Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.

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