News

City Council vets budget cuts

The Mercer Island City Council continued its deliberation of the upcoming 2001-2012 last Monday and Thursday evenings.

The Council worked its way through a dozen budget proposals of several departments, beginning with police. At the outset of the budget planning, directors were instructed by the City Manager Rich Conrad to cut items that would not affect the level of services to citizens. Conrad noted that $800,000 has already been pulled out of the initial budget. “The next set of cuts,” he said, “will reduce (city) services.”

Council questions in particular focused on justifying the need for employees and the timing of replacement of city assets such as computers or vehicles.

For his department, Police Chief Ed Holmes, explained that one of the two “hire ahead” positions would be eliminated at a savings of $90,000. A “hire ahead” position allows the police department to hire an officer ahead of need, and time and pay them as they train, in order to have them immediately available when the need arises. However, cutting the position means that the budget for officer overtime would need to be increased by $32,000 to make up the difference if the department required another officer right away.

The proposed budget for the police also included cutting one of the record clerk positions, to half-time status. What that means for the public is that window hours at the station at city hall will be fewer and that requests for information maybe delayed, said Holmes. The police budget kept the school resource officer position for 2011 which is projected to reach $119,000 in 2011.

In response to extensive questioning of the police budget proposal, City finance director Chip Corder praised the police department’s efforts to cut costs. Corder stated that: “no other city department stepped up to the budget challenge like the police. “The police department came to the table with the most cuts,” he said.

The three-person staff of the municipal court will make do with a half a position less in the coming year despite a growing workload. The cut will bring savings of $46,000. Both Corder and Judge Wayne Stewart said that the defeat of the county tax increase will mean that courts such as Mercer Island might have to help with the case loads of other jurisdictions.

The City Manager’s office will make due with a part-time communications coordinator or perhaps no coordinator at all. The Council was divided as to the need of the position at any level. Conrad had proposed cutting the position by 40 percent to save the city $50,000.

The City Maintenance department will also do with less people, letting go of at least two seasonal positions, a trail maintenance position and the reduction of one facilities maintenance position by half. The impact from these and other changes to the department would mean that one person would not be available for snow plow duty in a big storm, explained director Glenn Boettcher. The snow and trail people do “double duty,” he said.

The city is proposing $544,000 from new revenue sources to offset the budget shortfall in the General Fund. Fees and a tax increase proposed include:

• Increase property taxes by 1 percent or about $12 per year per household.

• Implement a fee for ambulance transport of $500.

• Increase building fees so that they more accurately reflect building costs and add new development fees related to Fire Marshal plan review and building permit.

• Institute an access fee for the scheduled use of the City’s athletic fields.

• Increase room rental rates at the Community Center at Mercer View.

More meetings are set for budget review.

Information and details for all of these items can be found at www.mercergov.org.

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