People ride the Jetty Island passenger ferry in August 2019 from Everett. The service could return next year if the city finds funding, as the city council has requested. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file)

People ride the Jetty Island passenger ferry in August 2019 from Everett. The service could return next year if the city finds funding, as the city council has requested. (Lizz Giordano / Herald file)

Everett council seeks money to save fireworks, Jetty Island

The city is facing an estimated $18 million deficit and has cut dozens of employees for next year.

EVERETT — Facing a projected $18 million budget deficit, the Everett City Council is looking for money to keep some flagship events and programs funded next year.

After Mayor Cassie Franklin and city department leaders proposed a budget for next year, the city council is in the middle of public hearings this month and discussing possible spending adjustments in 2021. The administration’s proposal would continue sudden and extensive cuts made this year after the coronavirus pandemic upended the city’s tax revenue and state public health guidelines halted several programs, such as the public pool at Forest Park and Jetty Island Days passenger ferry service.

The proposed 2021 budget totals more than $651.8 million. Of that, $137 million — a $12.7 million decrease from the current budget — is for general government, which covers most city services including parks, planning and public safety expenses. Another $250.4 million goes to running the city’s transportation, water and sewer, golf course and downtown parking garage operations. Employee health benefits and a self-insurance fund, among other internal service funds, would cost another $41.5 million. The police and fire pensions are budgeted to spend $4 million with about $42 million in its ending fund balance, the same amount the city has budgeted for payment on its long-term debt.

City leaders in 2021 plan to have more than 1,140 full-time-equivalent employees, a reduction from what was originally budgeted for this year and from last year.

Most departments are seeing budget decreases and staffing losses, such as the finance office which will close the front desk one day a week.

“I think we all recall that coming into 2020 we knew that we would have a challenging year this year with a projected deficit,” Councilmember Scott Murphy said at an Oct. 28 meeting. “And of course the pandemic hit in March and we’ve suffered serious revenue hits throughout the year and have had to make very difficult cuts to our expenses.”

The city council has highlighted several positions and programs — including Independence Day fireworks, Jetty Island Days, and movies and music in the parks — which it hopes to fund next year if money can be shed elsewhere and those events are allowed again.

Franklin consistently has said she and her staff dislike the layoffs and voluntary separation agreements that meant the loss of dozens of employees, including from the administration department which she oversees. That budget is to decrease $507,385 with the loss of two executive directors and an executive assistant.

“I have done quite a bit of reorganization to try to identify as many inefficiencies” as possible, Franklin told the city council.

Some of the city’s most popular events could return next year. The arts and parks departments took big hits this year when events with large crowds were banned because of coronavirus risk. But the city council asked staff to put Cinema Under the Stars, the Independence Day fireworks show, Jetty Island passenger ferry service and Music in the Parks on its “parking lot” list of items to fund.

Jetty Island Days is the summer opening of free, regular access to the man-made sand bar just off Everett’s waterfront. Beyond hopping aboard a ferry at the Port of Everett marina and soaking up the sun, the city hosts a children’s camp, nature walks and sets up a restroom. It costs about $109,000 just for the ferry contract, and about $227,000 total, assistant parks director Kimberly Shelton said.

But the cultural arts department, which puts on the movies and music in the parks as well as organizing Sorticulture, was slated for cuts of over $257,000, about 35% from the original 2020 budget.

Music could return to Everett parks and public spaces next year if the city council trims money from other funds to pay for them. (City of Everett, file)

Music could return to Everett parks and public spaces next year if the city council trims money from other funds to pay for them. (City of Everett, file)

“I think those are vital celebrations in our community,” Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher said. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes a community worth living in. I think a cut of 35% out of this budget is really just a step too far.”

Some departments were combined and positions shifted, such as the two social workers in the Everett Police Department’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team who were moved into the community, planning and economic development department. The city also plans to add another social worker next year. Stonecipher questioned their transfer out of the police department. They work with officers to get people into housing and treatment. But Community Development Director Julie Willie said bringing them into her office better connects the social workers with the city’s other human service providers and allows for expansion of hours to cover evenings and weekends.

“The social worker program will continue to work very closely” with the outreach team, Willie said.

Code enforcement, which has changed departments a few times over the past few decades, will leave the police and join engineering. City staff said that move integrates code enforcement with people who are regularly evaluating projects based on city code.

That three-pronged department is to lose planner positions and the neighborhood and community engagement coordinator position that was shed this year. Those drew concerns from Stonecipher and Councilmember Paul Roberts, who is a former city planner. Everett is in the midst of long-range transit and zoning planning, and losing planners adds burden for those left, Roberts said.

With Everett set to vote in city council districts for the first time next year, and with possible redistricting based on 2020 Census data, the neighborhood coordinator position could be useful to inform residents. Murphy asked that it be added to the council’s wish list.

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

Budget hearings

The Everett City Council is holding remote public meetings. A budget hearing is scheduled for the city council’s special meeting starting at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. People can call in and listen at 425-616-3920, conference ID 724-887-726#, and public comment can be submitted in writing to council@everettwa.gov or during the meeting by calling 425-616-3920, conference ID 216-827-976#. The meeting will be live-streamed online at tinyurl.com/y344ojr7.

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