2011-2012 city budget set

Facing an economy still in recession and lower sales tax revenues, the City Council adopted a revised 2011-2012 budget on Monday night that bridged a projected $2.9 million shortfall in 2011 and a $3 million budget gap in 2012. The revised budget shrinks the city’s general fund budget, which encompasses most of the city’s general government operations, to $46.2 million in 2011-2012, a 5.4 percent decrease from the 2009-2010 general fund budget.

“This was the most challenging budget we have faced in years. We first combed through the budget, cutting over $1.4 million in expenses without reducing services. Much of that came from employee salaries and benefits, supplies and efficiencies in operations. Then, while maintaining essential services in public safety, utilities and streets, we reduced a limited number of discretionary services,” said City Manager Rich Conrad.

The Council approved a number of spending reductions, including:

• Eliminating 8.9 total city positions, four by lay-offs.

• Eliminating the fire marshal position and redistributing the duties.

• Eliminating the biennial citizen survey in 2012.

In addition to making a number of spending cuts, the Council approved new revenue sources, including a temporary ambulance transport fee. The fee will raise an estimated $262,500 to cover the projected budget shortfall in 2011.

The city will institute an ambulance transport fee on a trial basis for one year, beginning Feb. 1, 2011. The City Council voted to require the fire department to collect data on the new fee and out-of-service times during the trial period and report back to the Council in early 2012.

As with private ambulance services, the city fee will be charged to patients' insurance companies and will not include bills for co-pays or unpaid balances to patients.

The Council rejected the city’s proposal to increase the city's share of the property taxes by 1 percent, which would have raised approximately $104,000 and cost the average Mercer Island household about $12 per year.

To bridge the remaining deficit, the Council tapped the city's “Rainy Day” fund for about $546,000 in the 2011-2012 biennium.

The Council, however, restored a number of cuts proposed in the city’s preliminary budget, including several Parks and Recreation Department events and programs, such as Mostly Music in the Park, Shakespeare in the Park and the Adventure Playground. The Council also voted to tap the Beautification Fund to increase funding for open space vegetation management in 2011 and 2012.

During the Monday night meeting, the City Council voted in support of a two-year interlocal agreement with the Mercer Island School District to take over operations of Mary Wayte Pool. The city will provide the school district $100,000 for pool operations, with an additional $25,000 for a reserve account for pool operating deficits and capital repair. The district will also place $25,000 in a reserve for capital pool expenditures and improvements.

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