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City calls for position cuts, fee increases

The Mercer Island City Council was faced with the image of a belt-strapped piggy bank — quite literally — at its Oct. 4 City Council meeting.

City Manager Rich Conrad and City Finance Director Chip Corder teamed up to present the preliminary 2011-2012 city budget that included proposed service cuts and additional fees to balance a budget that also included the addition of $171,659 in service enhancements.

“The Preliminary 2011-2012 Budget reflects current economic realities which have affected Mercer Island despite careful financial planning," Conrad said. The city presented a budget on Monday that was 9 percent smaller than the general fund budget in 2008-2010.

"While we will are fortunate to be able to maintain essential city functions like public safety, we will have to reduce or eliminate some discretionary programs to balance the budget,” he said

With revenues on the decline, the city has already instituted a number of cost-saving measures, including eliminating cost of living adjustments for all employees in 2010, delaying market-based raises and leaving a number of positions vacant.

In addition to these cuts, the city is proposing a number of service reductions that will affect the areas of trail, tree, and parks maintenance; transportation planning; community arts and recreation programs and events; and human services, among other areas.

The preliminary budget includes the elimination of 8.4 full-time employees (FTE), which would bring the city's staff level down to what it was in 2003, Conrad said. The cuts include 1 FTE "hire ahead" position in the police department, a .5 FTE police records clerk, a .25 FTE fire marshal, a .5 FTE court administrator, a .5 FTE facilities maintenance technician, a .5 FTE arborist, .5 FTE trail maintenance reorganization, 1 FTE transportation manager, a .5 FTE Youth and Family Service development officer, a .5 FTE Youth and Family Service VOICE officer, un-funding Summer Celebration fireworks, and loss of the tree planting program for Island residents. Service reductions also include less parks maintenance and arts programs, a reduced budget for a city Communications Coordinator, a reduction in off-Island Human Service contracts, elimination of seasonal labor and elimination of the Groveland Beach Lifeguard.

Conrad and Corder proposed the current $2 million deficit could be offset with fee increases, a 1 percent property tax increase and by dipping into the "rainy day" fund. Additional revenue options also proposed include the use of a 1.6 percent “banked capacity” property tax, a 1 percent utility tax, a $20 per Island vehicle license tab, or a 1 percent levy lid lift.

Citizens are invited to attend council meetings as well as the public budget hearings scheduled throughout October and November.

All meetings will take place in the Council Chambers in City Hall located at 9611 S.E. 36th Street. For more details and to view budget documents, visit www.mercergov.org/budget. The Preliminary 2011-2012 Budget will be available online on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

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