City of Everett’s finances are in excellent condition

We welcome the opportunity to provide an opposing point of view to the Guest Commentary "Proposed Everett Budget …" published on this page Tuesday.

First, let us disclose that we are all supporters of Mayor Frank Anderson’s election bid. Noticeably absent from the previously mentioned guest commentary was the disclosure that three of the authors are supporters of Ray Stephanson, included in his list of endorsements. We respect everyone’s right to take a political stance, but disclosure of political interest and possible bias is called for.

The Tuesday guest commentary continues the theme of the Stephanson campaign of the last few months. It attempts to create confusion about the strength of the city’s financial status, misinterprets the strategic budget projections to predict doom for the future and casts doubt on the capacity of Mayor Anderson and the members of the Everett City Council to make intelligent decisions to keep the city in good financial shape.

Don’t be misled. The City of Everett is in excellent financial condition. Reserve funds are healthy and additional contributions to reserve funds are scheduled in Mayor Anderson’s 2004 budget. The city’s Rainy Day Fund is funded to the maximum amount allowed by state law. In addition, the city will begin the year with a record $23 million cash surplus. No cuts in essential city services are necessary and no layoffs of city employees are needed.

The writers of the Tuesday guest commentary contend that if the city spends more money than it receives annually, the budget is not balanced. They further suggest that former Mayor Hansen would not condone the use of city surplus funds to balance the budget. However, the facts are that Mayor Hansen did use cash surpluses to supplement current year revenues in order to meet expenses in years 1995, 1999 and 2000. What the writers fail to mention is that contributions to reserve funds are counted as expenses.

These surplus funds, transferred to reserve accounts during the Hansen administration and now by Mayor Anderson in 2003 and 2004, are, for the sake of simplicity, called "expenses." However, the funds are simply transferred to reserve accounts and are not spent. They are held securely for future needs and obligations.

They are correct in pointing out that the proposed 2004 budget calls for annual expenses of $96.2 million and revenues of $91.5 million, requiring use of $4.7 million of the cash surplus. However, $10.2 million of the projected "expenses" are contributions to various city reserve funds. For example, $4.5 million of the $10.2 reserve fund transfers represents an increase in the city’s contribution to public safety pension reserves, pre-funding those obligations and lessening the burden on future taxpayers. This action further strengthens the financial position of the city. This is a practice that is consistent with the good decisions made by Mayor Hansen while he was at the helm. It was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now.

The current record high $23 million cash surplus was increased by more than $6 million since 2002 in anticipation of a continued weak economy. This was done by careful attention to expense and revenue trends. City departments cut their budgets and limited their expenses in order to help create that additional surplus. These surpluses were created specifically to help continue vital city services during this soft economy.

Mr. Stephanson’s supporters call for cuts in city services now to stave off future deeper cuts. This despite the fact that the city administration and council have managed finances so well that we have strong reserve funds and a large cash surplus. What city services would he cut? Police and fire? Parks or libraries? Street maintenance funds?

It is alleged that Mayor Anderson is not willing or able to make the difficult decisions necessary to curtail expenses. Nothing could be further from the truth. We could give many examples to support our statement, but as space is limited, let us just review a few.

When Mayor Hansen took office in January of 1994 he made the difficult decision to eliminate many city positions, actually reducing the employment in general government to 686 employees. By the time he left, employment had risen to 753, an increase of 67 positions. Since Mayor Anderson took office nearly 16 months ago he has reduced, through attrition, nine positions in 2003 and plans to reduce another 19 in his proposed 2004 budget, again through attrition. This reduction of 28 positions represents a significant departure from "business as usual" as implied by Mayor Anderson’s opponent.

While developing the 2003 budget, city departments committed to a permanent 1.5 percent reduction in their budgets, resulting in an annual savings of more than $1 million. During the year they were again asked to reduce their spending. All departments contributed with savings totaling $1.8 million.

Implementing alternative sentencing options for misdemeanor offenses has reduced our jail bill by $500,000. By taking advantage of historically low interest rates and refinancing city debt, $1.14 million has been saved. By reducing the use of outside attorneys, expenses for legal assistance have been cut from more than $800,000 to less than $400,000.

Clearly, this administration has made the tough calls needed to contain expenses and will continue to seek savings wherever possible.

This city is poised on the brink of rejuvenation and revitalization. This city is financially strong, and unlike many other local governments, does not need to cut vital services to our community. With the leadership of Mayor Frank Anderson and the stewardship of the Everett City Council, this city will continue the good work of those who have come before and lead Everett into a bright and prosperous future.

Bob Cooper is the executive director for the City of Everett. He has been employed by the city for over 31 years, 20 of those as the parks and recreation director. He has assisted in the preparation of city budgets under mayors Bill Moore, Pete Kinch, Ed Hansen and Frank Anderson.

Bill Cushman retired from the City of Everett in February 2003, having served over 25 of his 30 years as the budget director. He was directly responsible for the preparation of city budgets under mayors Bob Anderson, Joyce Ebert, Bill Moore, Pete Kinch, Ed Hansen and Frank Anderson.

Orin Fjeran is retired from the Everett School District, where he served as the assistant superintendent for business. He also served under Mayor Bill Moore as the Navy homeporting coordinator.

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