Everett’s 2013 budget proposal stays the course

EVERETT — Lawns at city parks aren’t getting mowed as often, and sidewalk repairs are waiting longer.

Those are some of the trade-offs Everett has made as the city enters another year of cost-cutting, Mayor Ray Stephanson said Wednesday, presenting his 2013 budget to the City Council. The city, instead, is striving to maintain infrastructure and public-safety budgets in the face of rising costs and stagnant revenues.

To make that possible, the city has taken moves such as holding more government jobs vacant, making some employees pay more for health care plans, keeping a lid on maintenance budgets and suspending some pension payments.

“We have been working hard to preserve essential public services since revenues began to decline in mid-2008, and the budget-balancing decisions become more difficult with each passing year,” Stephanson said. “Despite some improvement in the aerospace industry, our economic recovery remains very slow, due in part to offsetting losses, such as the closure of the Kimberly-Clark plant in early 2012.”

That said, the mayor pledged to support — to the extent possible — parks, libraries, the Carl Gipson Senior Center and popular city-sponsored events.

The mayor’s 2013 spending plan followed general outlines laid out over the past several months. It includes $112 million for general services. That compares to the $110 million allocated in 2012.

“It’s still down about $7.4 million from the total receipts in 2008,” city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

An obstacle to crafting next year’s spending plan was a $10.6 million gap between projected city revenues and expenses identified this spring. The mayor’s proposed budget chips away at that gap in four major ways, Reardon said.

The first is keeping a minimum of 25 positions open throughout the year. That’s an increase from this year, when at least 15 positions were kept open. The city has about 1,000 employees.

The second is having city elected officials, as well as about 200 appointed employees not represented by unions, make monthly health care payments. That’s on top of the deductibles and co-pays they’re contributing already.

The third is eliminating increases for maintenance and operations for all city departments. The city has done that for four years in a row.

The fourth strategy was to suspend the city’s annual contribution to a police and firefighter pension plan called LEOFF 1. The city still expects to fully fund the pension because it made pre-payments in the past.

In addition to cost-cutting, the city plans to raise revenue with a 1 percent increase in the amount of general property taxes it collects. The tax bump, a standard feature of past budgets, has cost the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 about $2 per year and generated more than $300,000 for city coffers.

After Wednesday’s meeting, City Council members were getting their first glimpse of the official budget documents.

Council President Ron Gipson said he wants to see the city continue to invest in itself to boost economic development. Two particular areas on his mind are the city’s central waterfront, including the former Kimberly-Clark mill site, and the city’s Riverfront project, east of downtown.

“We need to work on economic development; we need to bring new dollars into the city,” Gipson said.

Councilman Paul Roberts said he’s happy that the city, so far, has mostly used cash to pay for city projects, rather than bonds, leaving Everett better positioned financially than most cities. He’s optimistic Everett leaders would continue heading in that direction.

“I compliment the mayor for the fiscal management that he and the departments have shown,” Roberts said.

Everett has scheduled additional budget hearings during regular City Council meetings at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and on Nov. 21. The address is 2930 Wetmore Ave.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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