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Leaner 2011 Budget Prompts Questions of Priorities

City leaders first cut and later funded Youth and Family Services programs.

Enumclaw city leaders, aware that the recent extra revenue from major construction will dry up in coming months, approved more than $700,000 in spending reductions as part of their final budget.

Approved (6-1) two weeks ago, the budget targets those cuts to areas including parks and recreation, the library and outside agencies as city leaders prepared to live with less.

"This has been one of the most complicated budgets we've done," said Councilman Jim Hogan just prior to the budget approval. "We've had the most healthy debate on this year's budget and had a lot of mixed votes, which I think is great -- democracy is messy. We made a lot of compromises. It was a hard budget ... I think we've done the best that we could do with a lot of good discussion."

Specifically, it was new hospital construction across from  that bumped up sales tax revenues for Enumclaw. But with construction nearly complete, and other new construction along with licensing and permit fees projected to be stagnant next year, the city needed to close an overall general fund gap of about $600,000.

The hospital had generated more than $265,000 in sales tax revenues; the loss of that amount in part had led the city to project a 4.4 percent decrease in overall general fund revenues for 2011, down from $10,137,747 in 2010 to $9,713,093according to the city's preliminary budget summary released in October.

Leaders initially decided to pull $150,000 in funding from outside agencies. The final budget showed a slight change of heart, though it caused some to reflect on city priorities.

The reduced budget now includes money for the Auburn Youth and Family Services and the YWCA which were able to secure $15,000 and $1,000 in funding respectively.

Both got their money thanks to last-minute motions by Councilman Jeff Beckwith. It had been the second time Beckwith pleaded with his fellow council members to help these outside agencies provide important community services. He was able to secure $1,000 for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) during a previous meeting.

Reacting to Councilman Richard Elfers' question about funding priorities as related to outside agencies, Beckwith bristled at the term 'outside agency.' "We're helping our citizens -- citizens who pay taxes. We're helping them in the things they feel are important to them. It's not like we're sending money away."

In all, the 2011 budget has set aside $32,000 for agencies including the , KCSARC, YWCA, and the , said City Administrator Mike Thomas. Past beneficiaries including the and , are still receiving no direct funding.

Where to draw the line

This is the dilemma faced by municipal governments during a down economy: Which programs go beyond a city's basic responsibilities?

"There were sad moments, but decisions had to be made so that we remained responsible for the physical welfare of the entire community," said Mayor Liz Reynolds. "It's tough when you see revenues continue to go down -- where is it going to stop?"

During the Dec. 13 meeting, Elfers expressed a similar concern. "We can't fix our streets. We can't hire a police officer. I have real trouble, based upon that, spending money to fund outside agencies when we're not even able to do what we're supposed to be doing in terms of basic maintenance of our city."

The , for example, which will receive about $100,000 less in funding in 2011, will not have a book budget in the coming year. Meanwhile, the Library Board will look to community supporters such as Friends of the Library, as well as other funds, to keep the level of service up, Library Director Robert Baer said.

Though it did not have to eliminate positions this year, the library will not be replacing a position in its Children's Services Department that was , Baer said. The need to spread existing staff around to meet continued demands means library hours will be cut. The library will open 30 minutes later in the morning and will close at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays (it's open until 8 p.m. for now), Baer said.

Preparing for 2012

Reynolds and Elfers say they're keeping a close eye on what is happening in Olympia, in light of the massive cuts outlined in Gov. Chris Gregoire's 2011 state budget. "There's a trickle-down effect that's going to make 2012 a tough year," Reynolds said. 

The city plans to prepare in the coming year, including working through a renegotiation of union contracts, updating the city health care plan, and studying a potential annexation of the city library into King County, Thomas said.

While the 2011 budget is now balanced, "You can't fix a budget in one year," he said. "Revenue is not keeping pace with our expenditures."

Send the City Council your thoughts on the budget here. 

Steve Powell December 29, 2010 at 08:21 PM
Since we aren't paying as much into these "outside" services does that mean they will reduce any services to the Enumclaw area? Also, is use of the library up or down? There had to be some reason why we weren't part of the county system before. Should we really consider it now? And if our crime statistics show we need another officer is public safety really something we should be scrimping on? Points to ponder ...

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