Layoffs, revenue increases help create ‘steady’ budget: Mayor’s proposal reflects priorities set by residents

According to Mayor John Marchione's proposed fiscal year 2011-12 budget, Redmond homeowners can expect to see a one percent property tax increase, amounting to about $7 per year, and water/wastewater fee increases amounting to about $5 per month, for a total increase of around $67 per year.

Redmond Mayor John Marchione

According to Mayor John Marchione’s proposed fiscal year 2011-12 budget, Redmond homeowners can expect to see a one percent property tax increase, amounting to about $7 per year, and water/wastewater fee increases amounting to about $5 per month, for a total increase of around $67 per year.

The $7 property tax increase is based on the rate going from approximately $1.56 per $1,000 assessed value (AV) to $1.57 per $1,000 AV. On a home valued at $400,000, Redmond’s portion of the property tax bill would go from approximately $622 annually to $629 annually, assuming that assessed valuation remains relatively neutral.

As well, the mayor’s proposed budget calls for a net decrease of 50.86 FTEs (Full-Time Employees) from fiscal year 2009-10 staffing levels, along with continued commitments to build Redmond Fire Station 17 on Northeast 116th Street and make further investments in the downtown neighborhood.

Marchione presented his proposed budget to the Redmond City Council at its Tuesday, Oct. 5 meeting. City Councilmembers will complete their budget review in November and will adopt the new budget in December, according to councilmember Hank Margeson, who is chair of the public administration and finance committee. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the mayor’s proposed budget at the Oct. 19 and Nov. 16 council meetings — which begin at 7:30 p.m. — at City Hall, 15670 NE 85th St. Residents can check out the preliminary budget online here.

“I am looking forward to leading a robust discussion of the budget elements, with an emphasis on ensuring we have true scalability so that if actual revenue diverges from anticipated revenue we are fully prepared to address shortfalls as well as gains,” Margeson commented.

In a Redmond Reporter interview earlier this week, Marchione noted that the 50 FTEs being reduced included 22 employees already laid off in November 2009. All had been working in development review and those positions were eliminated because development had stopped due to the poor economy.

Twenty eight more FTEs are now being cut. Eight of those are vacant positions which just won’t be filled and in fact, will be eliminated. Twenty other FTE positions are now filled but the work done by those employees will be consolidated to improve efficiency and eliminate unnecessary spending.

“Layoffs are always difficult, both on the affected employees and those left behind,” said City Council president Richard Cole. “I think the mayor’s open communication with everyone has helped employees understand the reason for reductions.

“As to the public’s acceptance for increased costs, we have made the need as clear as possible. One of the largest increases is for the sewer service. This cost is a pass through from King County that we have no control over.”

COMMUNITY PRIORITIES

Marchione noted that his proposed budget continues Budgeting-by-Priorities (BP) implementation began in 2008, builds on a strong foundation of the fiscal year 09-10 biennial budget, is consistent with plans to improve two urban centers (Downtown and Overlake) and reflects priorities that were set through a public input process.

Those priorities are:

• Business Vitality (attracting and retaining a diverse and vibrant range of businesses).

• Clean and Green Environment (clean air and water, abundant parks and trails, effective waste management, sustainability).

• Community Building (places to gather, shared cultural experiences, opportunities to volunteer, ways to increase civic pride).

• Government Responsiveness (transparency, efficiency, good customer service, fiscal responsibility).

• Managing Infrastructure and Growth (especially with regard to Redmond’s two urban centers, Downtown and Overlake).

• Safety (proactive programs to prevent fires and crimes, well-trained personnel and proper safety equipment, community and business partnerships to encourage compliance with health and safety standards, emergency/disaster preparedness).

Marchione said for the 2009-10 cycle, the city’s general fund budget was more than $160 million and the 2011-12 budget is projected at about $146 million. Marchione said there was approximately an 8-9 percent decrease in revenues for the 2011-12 budget, which equates to an approximately $15 million shortfall. The city was able to decrease its expenditures in the 2009-10 budget, spending about $142 million due to innovations, efficiencies, better customer service training and performance measurement. The city has implemented the same efficiency-savings strategy for the 2011-12 budget.

Councilmembers have yet to really sink their teeth into the some 600-page document, but some initial council reaction has been positive.

“I think that the budget is responsible and sustainable … While the budget covers a two-year period, the preparation includes an attempt to look beyond the near horizon to gauge sustainability,” said Council vice president Pat Vache. “I think the Redmond community will react with reasoned thoughtfulness. I do not know of any one who likes paying more … but clear and compelling explanations of the choices made will win the day. The budget we were presented makes the choices clear and compelling.”

MORE EFFICIENCIES

Among accomplishments during 2009-10, Marchione noted that the extension of Bear Creek Parkway, sewer extension on Cleveland Street — to provide infrastructure for new development in the downtown area — and the purchase of the BNSF Redmond spur, are helping to make downtown more walkable and therefore, more attractive to residents and shoppers.

As well, more stormwater management progress has been made in the Overlake area and the Northeast 36th Street Bridge project will have its ribbon-cutting on Nov. 18.

“We have a better permitting system, more customer friendly, it allows builders to submit things electronically,” Marchione commented. “In business, we have better planning, upgrades of systems, partnerships with Microsoft. They have ‘the house of the future’ and ‘the office of the future.’ We want to be the government of the future.”

Marchione emphasized that this budget process “began with talking to the public, then we went to results teams to evaluate services and efficiencies. We looked for ways to consolidate services, deliver services differently.”

As an example, fire inspectors asked for an FTE to help with a bigger workload, Marchione said.

“Instead, we break down lists of simple inspections for fire staff to handle between calls and have experts handle the big ones,” Marchione explained.

“Departments have been innovative and creative, to reduce work and focus on results. If it took four people to change a tire and you take one away, you train the other three people to do it better.”

While city employees could thus be worried about losing their jobs, Marchione noted, “No, they’re actually saving their jobs by becoming more efficient.”

As the City Council examines the mayor’s proposed budget, “they will see what offers were, how we’d scale back and also copies of the funded and unfunded requests. They can see what didn’t make the cut,” said Marchione.

He continued, “A one percent increase in the property tax is to keep us steady every year. We’re not in the same crisis mode as other cities. Why do we make cuts? To be good stewards of public services. We can’t keep positions if the need or the work isn’t there. We’re keeping more than 95 percent of our employees. The call to them is to make the most of what we have. We are right-sizing operations.”

Building permits are down by 55 percent, because of the economy, said Marchione. “Single family housing is way down, we’re not talking about four or five projects downtown.”

Other areas where job duties are being consolidated include a records request person at Redmond Police Department, one less person in the graphics department and a few less in parks maintenance.

“Maybe now we’ll mow lawns every 10 days instead of every eight days in the summer,” Marchione said. “It’s a slightly reduced level of service but will not have a huge impact.”

NO CUTS TO HUMAN SERVICES

In streamlining the budget, “we didn’t touch any human services, it’s the only place we didn’t cut,” the mayor remarked. “We added a little more economic development help, a partnership with the Chamber to retain and attract businesses. … For the 95 percent of employees who stay, we need to deliver the same quality of services and be willing to try new things, focus on performance measurements, build credibility and give an honest report card to the community on how we’re doing. You don’t cut 28 positions lightly. … Our goal is to deliver best results to the community.”

The FTEs who will lose their jobs were given more than 90 days notice, said Marchione.

As the Council deliberates on the budget, with adoption expected in December, Marchione is also “taking his show on the road” and speaking to community groups such as Redmond Rotary Club and the Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce.

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