EVERETT — Independence Day fireworks, Jetty Island ferry runs, library service, the senior center and more could return next year after the Everett City Council moved money to fund several “quality of life” events and programs.
Months of budget consternation and discussion amid a pandemic and a swift dip in sales tax revenue resulted in the council making some last revisions Nov. 25 before likely approving the $651 million budget Wednesday.
The 2021 budget includes cuts to almost every city department except the ranks of police officers in uniform, which could see an increase due to a $6 million federal grant, and the budget keeps in place dozens of layoffs and positions cut at the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis and subsequent drop in consumer spending.
The council spent the past month seeking ways to revive some of the city’s popular events, including a Fourth of July fireworks show and the free summer passenger ferry between the Port of Everett marina and Jetty Island. They were scrapped in 2020 because of the budget challenge and public health rules.
“Our community is looking to us to make good decisions and balance our priorities and balance our resources,” Councilmember Scott Murphy said at the Nov. 25 meeting. “There needs to be some quality of life and something to look forward to and some hopeful, fun activities.”
City leaders in May reduced Everett’s workforce through more than 50 voluntary separations and over 160 layoffs. Many of the employees who were laid off worked in seasonal positions or had duties that weren’t allowed during the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders. Salaries and benefits comprise some of the largest expenses in the city’s general fund, which pays for most city services, including administration, firefighters, parks and police.
In a 4-2 vote Nov. 25, the council reduced the city’s jail budget by $200,000 to help pay for other events and programs because members expect court operations to remain limited during the pandemic next year. Councilmembers Scott Bader and Liz Vogeli voted against the motion. Councilmember Jeff Moore was absent.
Bader supported the city staff’s jail budget proposal, which would have kept funding higher to account for a rise in jail bookings and lengths of stay, as well as increased costs at the Snohomish County Jail and jails in King and Yakima counties. Vogeli said she liked the “quality of life” events, but with sweeping layoffs and budget tightening, including labor union contract concessions totaling $500,000, she thought spending on non-essential things was imprudent.
“We were hoping for $1 million and (the unions) were able to give $500,000, and they’re not mandatory gifts,” Vogeli said. “They’re real people’s benefits and pay raises. … I’ve been on a Top Ramen budget, and you can’t afford the movies.”
A Washington State Supreme Court ruling that voter-approved Initiative 976’s $30 car tabs are unconstitutional means vehicle registration fees collected in 2020 can now be spent. While the case was being decided, the city didn’t spend about $1.5 million in car-tab revenue, in case it had to be refunded. To cover for some of that frozen money, the city council had moved about $542,175 from the general fund into a street improvement fund to pay for road work this year. Now, the council has allocated it toward the quality-of-life items.
In a 5-1 vote, the council added $80,250 for the Independence Day fireworks next year.
But the city council is waiting to see if partnerships form for some of the arts, culture and parks events and programs, including Jetty Island Days, Music at the Marina and movies at the parks, before it commits money.
After closing at the start of the pandemic in late March, the Carl Gipson Senior Center could reopen next year, depending on public health guidelines.
“We have an obligation to provide services to seniors in our community,” Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher said.
Similarly, library service could increase, thanks to an allocation of $300,000, which is less than what city staff estimated would fully restore service hours at both branches.
“I feel like the library is one of the few services provided by municipal government that is something that is simply not provided for by the private sector in any way, shape or form,” Stonecipher said.
City council meeting
A vote on the 2021 budget by the Everett City Council is on the regular meeting agenda on Wednesday. The council meets remotely starting at 6:30 p.m. People can listen to the meeting by calling 425-616-3920, Conference ID: 724-887-726#, or via the online stream by the Everett Channel at everettwa.gov/408/Everett-Channel.
Ben Watanabe: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.