Everett council takes up $324.8M budget, which has ‘safe streets’ money

EVERETT — On Wednesday the Everett City Council will take up a $324.8 million budget for 2016.

That’s a combination of the city’s general fund, which covers staffing and government operations, as well as its specialized funds kept separate, such as debt service, utility services, transit and others.

The final vote is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The total budget marks a modest decrease from 2015’s $357.6 million in spending.

Much of the difference could be explained by the way water and utility projects are accounted for: $137.4 million in spending on utilities in 2015 will drop to $88.4 million in the 2016 budget because $50 million in previously raised sewer bonds was then transferred into construction funds for specific projects as they got under way, city treasurer Susy Haugen said.

On a balance sheet, those transfers from debt to construction projects are recorded as expenses, she said.

“We’re not going to issue debt in 2016 for water and sewer,” Haugen said. There won’t be significant change in water and sewer operations next year.

One of the main projects under way is the “Sewer M” project, which is separating stormwater pipes from the sewers in the northwest part of the city. The first phase of that project started last year and is expected to be completed in 2016, which cost about $3.9 million in 2015 and $2.8 million next year.

The 2016 budget otherwise is relatively flat compared with last year’s, with small increases in some areas offset by cuts to other line items.

One of the features of the new budget is Mayor Ray Stephanson’s proposal for $1 million in new funding for the “Safe Streets” project to combat chronic homelessness and street-level crime on top of $1.2 million that is being carried over from 2015.

The initial $1.2 million outlay already includes funding for a social worker embedded with the Police Department, a dedicated Streets Initiative Coordinator (whose position is jointly funded by the United Way of Snohomish County) and additional human needs projects carried out by existing city staff, Haugen said.

The $1 million increase will fund the hiring of four police officers, one sergeant and two social workers to function as a dedicated unit within the Everett Police Department, plus a new prosecutor and some money devoted to building 10 units in 2017 of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

An additional $650,000 from federally funded grant programs will also provide some necessary starting capital for the supportive housing project.

The budget also includes a $2.8 million increase in funding for transit-related services. A previous study of Everett Transit facilities and operations cited the need for upgrades to the camera equipment at Everett Station and a new maintenance and operations building in the north end, both of which will receive funding in the new budget.

A mostly flat budget doesn’t address the city’s long-term structural deficits. Everett spent much of 2014 cutting expenses and increasing taxes and fees in order to eliminate at $13 million deficit for 2015.

The 2016 budget proposal also is balanced, but the city is still projecting a $6.4 million deficit for 2017, which will increase to $16.1 million in 2020 without further cuts or revenue sources.

The city is undertaking studies of both its fire and police departments to identify areas where more savings can be extracted.

The fire department study has been released, but some of the recommendations, such as closing fire stations, are controversial, and implementing any recommended changes in either department will involve negotiations with the city’s labor unions.

The two departments have 446.3 full-time equivalent positions, 38 percent of the city’s 1,167.73 total budgeted staff. Together, police and fire services will amount to $54.5 million in expenses in the 2016 budget, more than half of the city’s $103.5 million general fund, which covers staffing and basic operations.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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