Everett police respond to a situation in an alley between Colby and Rucker avenues on Saturday. The city passed a budget that would provide for eight more police officers to be funded initially by a federal Department of Justice COPS grant. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Everett police respond to a situation in an alley between Colby and Rucker avenues on Saturday. The city passed a budget that would provide for eight more police officers to be funded initially by a federal Department of Justice COPS grant. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Amid pandemic, Everett council approves an optimistic budget

The buget promises more police, staff raises, faster permits and restored transit and library services.

EVERETT — In a last-minute change to next year’s $761 million budget, Everett City Council members approved adding eight officers to the police department, with federal funding.

Otherwise, the relatively optimistic budget was unchanged from what Mayor Cassie Franklin proposed in the fall. Unlike past years of spending reductions and jostling money to keep “quality of life” programs such as the Jetty Island ferry service, her proposed budget sought to restore service and staffing.

On Dec. 1, the council unanimously approved the 2022 budget, promising pay bumps for city employees, faster permit turnaround time and a return to normalcy for libraries and transit.

“It was nice to not have another year of budget cuts,” said Councilmember Scott Murphy, who has been the budget chairman for several years. “We’re definitely starting to see some (economic) recovery from the pandemic.”

The city resolved its budget deficit because of higher sales tax projections, a reduction in jail expenses, and carry forward from 2020 largely due to vacant positions.

General government fund expenses — which cover most city services such as fire, parks and police — grew from $136 million this year to $155.3 million next year. Restored contributions to pensions and a capital improvement program account for most of that.

The budget contains a 3.5% cost of living adjustment for non-union employees. Union contracts that tie wages to inflation, which dramatically jumped 6.8% last month, also are set for increases. Council members will consider approving the salary schedule at their Wednesday evening meeting.

Murphy asked to add the police officer positions after the the third and final budget hearing Dec. 1. He said residents want “to feel safe.”

“I think we can all agree that public safety is one of the highest amenities that the public looks forward to in our city,” Murphy said at the meeting.

Before the pandemic began in 2020, Franklin prioritized bolstering the police department’s ranks. Property and violent crime reports declined in Everett over the prior decade, according to FBI data. But last year there was an uptick in violent crime reports, while property crime reports dropped.

The additional officers added $1.4 million to the police department’s originally proposed $41.2 million budget. Of that increase, the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant covers $1 million and assumed vacancies cover $400,000, Murphy said.

Only Councilmember Liz Vogeli voted against the amendment, which passed with six votes. She said the department “is doing a great job” and praised the officer and social worker units working with people who are chronically homeless or living with behavioral and mental health challenges. But, she said, that program’s efficacy can be limited by the availability of behavioral and mental health services, housing and shelters.

“Yes, public safety is of ultimate importance,” Vogeli said. “That means different things to different people. Not all of our residents equate police with safety.”

After initial budget concerns last year, the council agreed in a 6-1 vote to accept the $6 million COPS grant. It allows the city to hire 16 police officers over three years but won’t cover all expenses for benefits and salaries of each officer. Equipment and training costs are left to the city.

Some training costs could be cut by hiring officers from other law enforcement agencies in the state — a recent city strategy.

The city can apply for a three-year extension to use the money. Officers hired through the grant must be kept a year after it expires, which could stagger depending on when they are hired.

With sales tax revenue trending upward after getting hit hard by the pandemic, Murphy was confident the city could afford the staffing increase down the road.

City financial officers said, however, projected higher revenue won’t be enough to cover future deficits.

Recruiting police may take some time.

“It’s not like you can add that budget amendment in December and hire those eight officers by January,” he told The Daily Herald.

The initially proposed 2022 Everett Police Department budget included up to 251 employees, including 206 officers. Only one position, a sergeant, has been filled with that grant so far.

There were 17 vacant officer positions as of Dec. 1 and the department could see “another 10 to 12 departures” next year, Chief Dan Templeman said.

Other proposed staffing increases were less contentious.

The Everett Public Library closed to visitors in the early months of the pandemic, prompting staff cuts. As guidelines shifted, hours and staffing were increased and the two branches reopened.

Next year’s $4.9 million library budget is expected to afford about 100 hours per week at each of the two branches. That budget is still almost $500,000 below what it was before the pandemic, library director Abby Cooley said.

Everett Transit, which is an enterprise fund outside of the general fund, is set to operate at 90% of its pre-pandemic service, finance director Suzy Haugen said Nov. 10. The city-run bus and para-transit agency’s $32.1 million grew by $4.1 million from the current year’s budget. That increase includes 10 more bus drivers, who could restore about 11,000 annual service hours. There’s also an increase of $305,700 in overtime to address unexpected worker absences, of which Haugen said there have been about 12 per day.

To help reduce turnaround time for construction permits, the planning department is set to hire another assistant planner, associate planner, administrative assistant and project coordinator. The engineering department got another permit counter development technician and an associate engineer plans examiner.

The Independence Day parade was not funded. Grant money for neighborhood associations was reduced to match past spending, which Councilmembers Scott Bader and Vogeli were hopeful could be increased as amendments next year.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

Corrections: An earlier version misstated elements of the budget. Everett was facing a budget deficit for 2022 but resolved it. General fund expenses increased largely because of restored contributions to pension and capital improvement program funds. Grant funds for neighborhood associations is included in the 2022 budget but was reduced.

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