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City outlines specifics for balancing 2011-2012 budget
The City of Mercer Island has not escaped the recession. Lagging revenues have created a projected $2.9 million shortfall in 2011 and a slightly larger shortfall in 2012. To address the shortfall, the city has proposed a two-year budget that includes spending reductions as well as new sources of revenue.
“Staff have put together a proposed budget that maintains essential services that help ensure the welfare and safety of the community while reducing some non-essential services. Although Mercer Island is faring better than other cities, the Council still has some tough choices to make,” said City Manager Rich Conrad.
The top priority for the proposed budget is to preserve essential public safety services. In order to maintain these basic services, the city has proposed $2 million in spending reductions that include the elimination of employee cost of living adjustments as well as reductions in or the elimination of various discretionary or non-essential programs. The city has also proposed eliminating 7.15 jobs in 2011, or 4 percent of the city’s workforce.
The city developed its proposed budget based on the following financial and policy criteria:
• Make reductions to services funded through the city’s General Fund, the main funding source for city operations and the area where revenues have declined the most.
• Avoid service reductions to programs that are already significantly funded by user fees or grants.
• Ensure service reductions largely reflect the city’s adopted “Priorities of Government.”
• Prioritize service reductions according to whether the program is 1) discretionary, 2) essential or 3) mandatory (i.e. required by state law).
• Consider the relative popularity of a given program or service as the last criteria.
Given these criteria, the city has proposed program and service reductions for the City Council’s consideration that include:
• Eliminating the city’s tree planting program.
• Reducing maintenance levels at specific fields, public restrooms, and other parks facilities.
• Ending the city’s subsidy for the fireworks show at Summer Celebration.
• Eliminating the following city-sponsored events and activities: Mostly Music in the Park, Shakespeare in the Park, Outdoor Summer Films, Spring Egg Hunt, Arts Council Winter Dance, Family Valentine Winter Dance, Volunteer Recognition Party, Fun Mobile, and Adventure Playground.
• Ending off-Island contracts with providers for the following programs: Reinvesting in Youth, King County Sexual Assault Center, and the Children’s Response Center (the proposed budget will preserve nearly all Mercer Island Youth and Family Service programs and services).
The city has also proposed $544,000 in revenue increases for the City Council’s consideration to help offset the budget shortfall in the General Fund. The Council will deliberate on the following new revenues:
• Increasing property taxes by 1 percent (about $12 per year per household).
• Implementing a fee for ambulance transport, a service currently provided by private ambulance transport companies at an average cost of $800 per transport.
• Increasing building fees so that they more accurately reflect building costs on Mercer Island.
• Instituting an access fee for the scheduled use of the city’s athletic fields.
• Increasing room rental rates at the Community Center at Mercer View.
• Instituting development fees related to Fire Marshal plan review and building permits.
Citizens are invited to attend upcoming public budget meetings to share their opinions and insight on the city’s proposed budget.
“Islanders are encouraged to participate in this open, public process as the City Council considers the spending cuts and new revenues proposed in the 2011-2012 budget,” said Conrad.
• Nov. 4: Special Council Meeting at 6 p.m. Public hearing: Preliminary budget review of criminal justice fund and general fund (City Council, City Manager’s Office, City Attorney’s Office, Finance Department, Fire Department, Human Resources, Maintenance Department, Municipal Court, non-departmental and Police Department operating budgets).
• Nov. 15: Regular Council Meeting, 7 p.m. Public hearing: Preliminary budget review of general fund (Parks and Recreation Department and Development Services Group operating budgets, follow-up items, adoption of 2011 property tax levy, adoption of 2011 utility rates, adoption 2011 development fees).
• Dec. 6: Regular Council Meeting, 7 p.m. Adoption of 2011-2012 Final Budget.
Mercer Islanders can also comment on the budget by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
All public budget meetings take place in the Council Chambers in City Hall located at 9611 S.E. 36th Street.
See an overview of the proposed budget, called the Budget Message, at www.mercergov.org/files/11-12SEC-B.pdf. To view the entire proposed budget, visit www.mercergov.org/11-12Budget.
Note: A press release issued on Oct. 6, 2010 misstated the number of jobs that the proposed budget eliminates as 8.4. The correct number is 7.15 jobs.