North Bend budget falls $100,000 short

North Bend has a balanced budget going into 2011, but the city still needs to shave $100,000 off its payroll commitments.

On legal assurance that the city will be able to amend the budget in the future, council members approved the $18.9 million budget on Tuesday, Dec. 7, by a vote of five to two.

While two council members, David Cook and Alan Gothelf voted against the budget, none of the council was satisfied with it.

Gothelf said the council had not set priorities correctly and was concerned that “we’re balancing the budget on public safety.” The preliminary budget included a 7 percent increase in the law enforcement fund, to $1.6 million, but a 33 percent cut to the overtime allocation.

“There is nothing in this budget that addresses downtown blight,” Cook said. Downtown renewal was one of Cook’s two chief issues when he was first elected in 2003. He also opposed a proposal to put all city staff on involuntary furlough to make up the additional $100,000 in needed cuts, saying it was inefficient, punished all staff members and could affect overall morale.

The alternative, laying off staff, was equally unacceptable to other council members and to City Manager Duncan Wilson, although he said it was still under consideration.

“We have heard, and we intend to follow through on your request that $100,000 be cut from this budget,” Wilson told the council. “I just want to explore other options before it’s too late.”

Potential staff reductions were definitely the most-discussed issue, but not the only one. Chris Garcia was unhappy with the 28 percent reduction in the asphalt overlay allocation in the streets operation fund.

“When our citizens state that they want rural character, it’s not driving on gravel roads,” said Garcia, who also expressed a mistrust in the overall budgeting process, a frustration echoed by several other council members.

Gothelf noted that while the council could go back and revise the budget after it was approved, historically, they didn’t.

Each council member and the mayor spoke his or her mind on the budget, but Dee Williamson summarized the challenges and urged the council to action.

“The fact is, we don’t have any money, and that fact is not going to change,” he said, later adding, “I don’t think anybody likes this budget, but... if we meet for the next five days in a row, what are we going to decide? If we don’t pass this budget, what are we going to change in it?”

Council member Jonathan Rosen admitted he didn’t know how he planned to vote at the start of the meeting, and suggested that the vote be postponed to the Dec. 22 meeting. He wished that the savings from cuts already made had been redirected to police services rather than the general fund, and was surprised to find himself “defending” the budget, he said. However, “If no one is happy, a compromise must have been reached,” Rosen said.

Following the vote, Mayor Ken Hearing thanked the council and staff for their hard work on the budget.

In other business:

• The council approved renewing a contract for legal services with Kenyon Disend, PLLC. The legal firm did not raise its hourly rate for 2010, but increased it by $5-10 per hour for 2011. The firm also did not increase the monthly retainer fee.

• The Snoqualmie Valley Record was selected as the city’s 2011 newspaper of record.

• A contract with Yakima County for jail services in 2011 was approved. Police Chief Mark Toner described the terms of the contract, which are more favorable to the city next year. The contract will no longer require the city to pay for a minimum number of jail days. Toner said the Yakima jail was the cheapest of the city’s three options for incarcerating juvenile offenders. Issaquah and King County jail facilities are more expensive, but can be better for short jail terms.

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