Some members of the Spokane Valley City Council started to pick apart acting City Manager Mike Jackson’s proposed 2011 budget Tuesday, but at least one was using outdated numbers to do it.
“In 2014 there’s a deficit of $6 million,” said Councilman Bob McCaslin.
Jackson pointed out that the current projections call for a $10 million surplus at the end of 2014. “So you’ve changed it,” McCaslin said.
“Yes, we have,” said Jackson. The estimates that projected a deficit in 2014 were completed last year. Projections completed since July have showed a surplus since the 2010 and 2011 budget cuts have been taken into consideration. Those new projections have been passed on to the council numerous times since July in discussions, presentations and documentations. The council also had a day-long budget retreat in July to go over the 2011 budget line by line.
McCaslin also objected that the building and planning departments are growing. “Those departments are decreasing,” Jackson said.
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she noticed that some department budgets are projected to increase 30 or 40 percent from 2009 to 2011. She said the council should reexamine “any department that has increased more than 5 percent since 2009.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann said there are easy explanations for many of those increases. The city engineers were transferred from one department to another, making the budget of their new department jump up even though costs aren’t really increasing. “Public Works has gone up because we’ve taken over snow plowing,” he said.
The Parks and Recreation Department is also spending more because it is offering more services. “If they bring in twice as much money, we should expect twice as much outflow,” he said.
Jackson called the 2011 budget conservative. “The city is in a very sound financial position,” he said. “We’re not facing drastic cuts.”
Cuts totaling $2.8 million have been made to the 2010 and 2011 budgets. At the end of 2010 the city is projected to have a carryover of $24.8 million, which equals 70 percent of the general fund budget. The city’s goal is to have at least a 15 percent carryover at the end of the year. The city also has a separate $5.4 million emergency fund. “That’s outstanding,” Jackson said.
The 2011 budget does call for the city to use $500,000 of that carryover, which Grassel objected to. “I guess I have a problem with saying our budget is balanced when you’re saying that we’re spending our reserves,” she said.
Councilman Gary Schimmels said the council has had input into the budget process all along, including the July workshop, and that he wouldn’t support a “hatchet job.” “They’re working with what we give them,” he said.
Councilman Dean Grafos said he was in favor of spending the reserves to fund parks and roads, not to operate the city. He said the city could save money by cutting a 2.5 percent cost of living raise coming up in January 2011. “I would like to see us freeze that for the nonunion employees,” he said.
Jackson said he led the day-long retreat and has met multiple times with the finance committee, which includes Grafos, Schimmels and Mayor Tom Towey, to go over the budget. “We’re hearing a lot of new ideas,” he said.
The city has carefully set aside extra money for years to prepare for the inevitable economic downtown so that the city could afford to maintain its services even though income is down, Jackson said. Now that hard economic times are here, the city should spend that money judiciously. “That’s the intent of the funds,” he said.
Jackson cautioned against using the carryover to fund capital projects. The general fund is used for running the city, not funding street projects, he said. “That’s headed off in a whole new direction,” he said. “We need to examine that very carefully.”
Jackson’s proposed budget does include using $500,000 from the Civic Facilities Fund to set up a street preservation fund. The street fund has been frequently advocated by Grassel, who again pointed out the need to fund street maintenance, on Tuesday.
In other business, the council heard short presentations from 14 nonprofit agencies who have applied for the $159,000 the city has allocated for grants in 2011. The organizations, which submitted requests totaling $395,217, include the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, Valley Meals on Wheels, Spokane Valley Partners, the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum and the Spokane Valley Arts Council.
The council will hear additional presentations from five economic development agencies at the Sept. 14 meeting and is scheduled to vote on which agencies to give money to on Sept. 28.