Everett tax revenues short of estimates

EVERETT — The city’s financial managers figure they were about $4 million off the mark when predicting revenue for the city’s $505.7 million 2009 budget, based on early sales and business tax returns.

Everett’s expenses, meanwhile, are growing. Cost-of-living raises for the city’s work force this year alone will cost an extra $3.3 million.

Budget planners don’t appear to be panicking.

In fact, the Everett City Council will consider a proposal to tack an additional $11 million to the city’s budget during its meeting on Wednesday. Most of that money would come from unspent funds carried over from last year.

City leaders say they are padded from lean times in part because of a 2004 policy that requires the city each year to save 20 cents of every dollar and put it into a reserve fund.

Among other things, the proposed budget amendment calls for setting aside money to pay for artwork on bus stops, graffiti cleanup and software to begin streaming recordings of council meetings on the city’s Web site.

“Right now, it’s really good and really saving us,” City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said.

The city now has about $23.8 million in general government reserves and another $4 million in what it calls a rainy day fund, officials say.

Budget officials say they don’t anticipate having to dip into either fund to balance the budget this year. Breaking into the piggybank requires a supermajority vote of the council. And it can only borrow money in tandem with a repayment plan.

Mayor Ray Stephanson, who is running for re-­election this year, has consistently said he doesn’t expect any layoffs or cuts to city services in 2009. At the same time, he said he has ordered city department managers to control expenses.

At least one council member is expressing skepticism that the city’s financial outlook is so strong.

The proposed budget amendment does not have a corresponding cut in spending to match the drop in revenue.

Councilman Mark Olson, the chairman of the council’s budget committee, said something more significant than “shuffling money around” should be done, especially in light of rapidly vanishing revenue and struggles and layoffs at The Boeing Co., by far the city’s largest employer.

“There’s no point in trying to pretend that Boeing is going to be the same vibrant company in the next 18 months that it has been during the past few years,” he said. “We don’t have enough fingers to plug all the holes in the little dingy that we’re sailing in. We simply cannot proceed in a business-as-usual mode.”

David Chircop: 425-339-3429, dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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