No input given at first official public hearing for 2013-14 city budget

The city held its first official public hearing for the 2013-14 budget at Tuesday night's City Council meeting as a way to garner input from residents. But no one took the podium and spoke as the budget hearing began — and ended — with a presentation by city finance director Mike Bailey.

Maybe it was stage fright, or the sunny weather or it could be that Redmond residents trust city staff with their money.

The city held its first official public hearing for the 2013-14 budget at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting as a way to garner input from residents. But no one took the podium to speak as the budget hearing began — and ended — with a presentation by city finance director Mike Bailey.

Mayor John Marchione will present his preliminary budget to City Council Oct. 9 and Tuesday’s public hearing gave residents an opportunity to express their opinion on how their money should be allocated for the next biennial budget. The city’s Budget by Priorities (BP) process is predicated on community input and for the second straight budget cycle, no one spoke at the first official budget hearing.

A second budget hearing is slated for Oct. 16 with the final hearing set for Nov. 20. The City Council is scheduled to adopt the 2013-14 budget at its Dec. 4 meeting after a series of budget study sessions, where council members will discuss the mayor’s budget proposal.

While the zero participation in Tuesday’s budget hearing is a bit disappointing for city officials, the no show and results from a community survey done earlier this year exhibits residents’ confidence in the city, Bailey said.

“The survey done late last year said pretty clearly that most believe we are on the right track, doing the right things and that people have confidence in the city,” Bailey said. “I’m guessing that means they don’t need to spend their Tuesday evening providing input at the council meeting.”

Bailey said during the last budget cycle in 2010, more people spoke at the budget hearings later in the year — and most of the input was positive. Bailey said he expects the same to be true this year.

Council President Pat Vache said he was a bit surprised and disappointed by the lack of participation at Tuesday’s budget hearing.

“There’s never very many people at the first one, but I expected someone to be here,” Vache said after the meeting.

Vache said getting public input now is important as it helps shape the mayor’s October budget proposal, pointing out that residents don’t have to wait until the next public hearing to give input. Residents can always address council members during the “Items from the Audience” portion of any upcoming business meeting, Vache said. In addition, residents can email council members and city staff with their ideas and input on the city’s upcoming budget, which is based on six community priorities — Infrastructure and Growth, Clean and Green Environment, Community Building, Safety, Business Community and Responsible Government.

City staff will continue to crunch numbers and prioritize the upcoming two-year budget based on performance metrics and public input as the deadline approaches for the mayor’s proposal. But just because no one spoke at Tuesday’s budget hearing doesn’t mean there has been no public input.

City officials held three Neighborhood Network meetings in February and March when they got feedback on city spending and project priorities. In addition, the city has six results teams — one per priority — made up of citizens and city staff. These teams work to prioritize and rank city budget offers based on how they would contribute to their respective priorities as well as how well they align with the city’s vision.

Vache said the input that city staff has received so far suggests that the city is doing a good job.

“It was more confirmation that you are on the right track,” Vache said. “There were no changes to the priorities. People agree that those are the priorities.”

Vache said he did hear at one neighborhood meeting that parks need more emphasis in the upcoming budget, but other than that most people trust and appreciate the city’s BP process, which began in 2008 when Marchione first took office.

Council member Hank Margeson said Tuesday’s no show could be attributed to the fact that people feel “intimidated” when talking in front of council members. He encouraged residents who don’t like to speak in public to email or call city officials with their input.

It’s still too early to estimate the final figure for the 2013-14 budget, but Bailey said he doesn’t expect the total amount to change drastically from 2011-12’s budget of $542 million.

“As for 2013-2014 it is premature to estimate an amount, but I expect the budget to be pretty static,” Bailey said. “We are continuing to see a strengthening in the economy but not much growth yet. The good news is that we do not see the reductions in the local economy that made the last budget process so difficult. We expect a pretty steady budget plan for the next biennium.”

City officials expect to get more input as the budget process continues into the summer and fall, according to Jeri Rowe-Curtis, the city’s communications and marketing manager.

“We know that as the budget hearings become a more prominent focus at future council meetings, there will be opportunity for citizens to comment, share their input and to otherwise engage,” she said. “It’s early in the process, so we are not surprised that (Tuesday) night was a quiet one.”