By Mina Williams For The Herald
EDMONDS — The Edmonds City Council’s budget is now in Mayor Mike Cooper’s hands, awaiting his approval or veto.
The council passed the 2011 budget with a 6-1 vote during its meeting earlier this week. Councilman DJ Wilson was the sole dissenting vote.
Some last-minute amendments to the budget may give the mayor pause. In particular, he questions the council adding $35,500 for the park’s flower program; spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to evaluate the pay scale of non-union city employees; and reducing the city attorney’s budget by $100,000.
Reducing the city attorney’s budget from $597,000 to $497,000 artificially lowers the attorney’s cost, Cooper said in an interview. He pointed out that the city’s legal expenses have risen 15 percent since 2008 and he believes that trend will continue.
“The council’s budget adds $400,000, plus it lowers $100,000 from the city attorney’s budget,” Cooper said. “I presented a 2011 budget that was balanced without cuts and layoffs.”
“Is it perfect? No. This is a stop gap,” Councilman Strom Peterson said. “There are small items I disagree with, including the arbitrary reduction of 20 percent on the city attorney.”
Some members of the council said they didn’t feel they were getting enough information about the city’s budget.
“The clarity of our finances has been lacking for over a year,” said Councilwoman Diane Buckshnis, explaining her reluctance to vote for the budget. “Our questions and comments and requests have been ignored. I will work with the levy committee to continue to get financial statements similar to any other city’s with a general fund balance so you know exactly where you are not just once a year.”
Councilwoman Lora Petso echoed that she, too, was reluctant to support the budget.
“I’m disappointed we can’t see answers to the (state) auditor’s questions,” she said. “Things were promised to us and didn’t turn up. I thought we would get breakdown of Fire District 1 sale and fund transfers.”
“Staff is not holding back information,” Cooper said in the interview. “Staff has not stonewalled council. They have worked hard to give the information council asked for. Sometimes it was not presented in the exact format council members anticipated.”
Wilson pointed to flaws in the council’s budget.
“There is no direction for substantive funding and it is not sustainable,” he said. “It has a surplus, but it gets there by imagining that some costs don’t exist. At a minimum, I urge my council colleagues, that if we are ever going to go to a levy we do so early in 2011.”
Cooper agreed that extra revenue is needed.
“Aug. 31, I pointed out that in 2014 the city will be in the red and we will drop below our ending cash balance target of having one month in reserves in 2012,” Cooper said in the interview. “Council needs to seriously consider asking voters for revenue in 2011.”