Edmonds finds 2013 budget challenging

EDMONDS — With less than five months under his belt, Mayor Dave Earling is laying the groundwork for the city’s 2013 budget. And that upcoming budget is like none other the city has faced.

For the past several years, mayors have cautioned that 2013 would be the year that Edmonds’ expenses eclipse revenues. The sluggish economy and the resulting lackluster revenue from retail sales taxes and under-performing real estate taxes are primary culprits.

In one budget-cutting effort, the council eliminated the vacant human resources director position last November. The duties were given to Carrie Hite, director of parks and recreation.

The human resource director position became vacant Sept. 22 when then Mayor Mike Cooper fired Debi Humann, saying he could not work with her. Humann had brought up concerns to Cooper regarding payroll documents filled out by the mayor’s assistant, Kimberly Cole.

Cole was later placed on paid administrative leave and Cooper offered her two different separation agreements. Both agreements were taken back by the city when questions came up regarding Cooper’s authority to cobble such a deal. Several weeks later, the City Council removed the director-level position from the 2012 budget. Both Humann and Cole continue separately to be legally tangled with the city.

While the position may be eliminated from the budget, tasks continue to be required and there will be a price tag for those tasks.

Earling’s solution was extra pay for extra work — up to 10 percent of the employee’s salary — for special-duty pay.

The council balked at giving the mayor carte blanche permission to give pay raises when employees step outside of their job description. The council continues to debate how Hite will be compensated for the additional duties and if council members or the mayor should have the final say.

“The thought of bringing every manager, every director to council for approval for extra duties would bring the city to a grinding halt,” he said. “The mayor needs to have the ability to act quickly in some instances. Coming back for every personnel decision would make it difficult to operate the city. If you don’t give me any tools in the toolbox, we won’t make good progress.”

Another budget-trimmer city staff is exploring is a Metropolitan Park District.

Much like a transportation benefit district, it is a funding mechanism to shield parks and recreation from budget cuts.

Instituting this could result in more than $2 million remaining in the general fund, according to Shawn Hunstock, finance director.

As civic revenues decrease and other resources become unavailable, this is one way to move forward with capital projects or simply to sustain parks, Hite said.

“We have some deferred maintenance issues and some capital needs,” she said. “I encourage (council) to have this conversation with citizens.”

Metropolitan Park Districts can offer a levy of up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to provide improvements, maintenance and acquire parks and recreation facilities.

The governing body is either an independent board of commissioners, city council or a combination.

Tacoma, Bainbridge Island, Tukwila and an unincorporated King County area around North Bend currently have park districts.

Formation of the district can be either through a resolution of the City Council or by petition for inclusion on the ballot identifying the district’s boundary, board members and levy rate.

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