Lynnwood cops face job cuts

LYNNWOOD — It was a hastily organized meeting held last week between Police Chief Steve Jensen and leaders of the city’s two police unions to go over the latest citywide budget projections for 2011-12.

The news was sobering: As it stands, there will be a $21 million gap between the services the city provides and how much money is expected to come into to City Hall coffers. That means layoffs and program cuts are likely, if not inevitable.

And public safety, which uses the biggest slice of the budgetary pie, is facing perhaps the biggest hit of all.

“We went through the targeted budget numbers and potential reductions,” Jensen wrote in a memo last week to police department employees. “Their response was similar to ours in that there was initial disbelief at the magnitude of the cuts.”

In short, there’s a projected gap of about $9 million between the amount of money the police department needs and what’s expected to be available in 2011-12. That number represents about 25 percent of the police department’s share of the two-year budget.

Those projections are sending shockwaves through City Hall.

As many as 23 police department jobs may be cut, including the sole animal control officer, patrol officers, office support staff and more, said Mark Brinkman, president of the Lynnwood Police Guild, which represents the lion’s share of the department’s employees.

Cuts of that magnitude “would decimate the department,” Brinkman said. “The best-case scenario is civilian positions would be gone. Possibly up to two clerks would lose their jobs and we’d go to just daytime service for clerical staff.”

The city’s budget dilemma occupied much of the City Council’s time since a February update by former finance director John Moir reported that late 2009 revenues had fallen short of predictions.

The following month, Moir resigned days after storming out of a heated council budget meeting.

By May, after two consultants weighed in on the city’s budget, council members managed to plug a $5.5 million budget hole for the remainder of 2010. They agreed to new taxes on gas, electricity, water and sewer and held off on some spending. That took care of 2010 but bigger problems loom ahead. The council also borrowed $3 million from the city’s utility fund. That money, plus $2 million taken from the stabilization fund and $1.3 million moved from capital spending, needs to be paid back in this coming budget cycle, finance director Patrick Dugan said.

Dugan says the departments asked for $102.6 million for their budgets in the next two-year cycle, but he projects that the city will bring in just $87 million. After paying back what the city owes from earlier borrowing, Lynnwood faces a $21 million hole.

“We knew it would be a bigger challenge to fix 2011,” Dugan said.

Officials say the biggest reason for the expected shortfall is the drastic drop in sales tax collections last year and in 2008.

Sales tax collections improved in 2010 but the increases are too little, too late to ward off shortfalls in 2011 and 2012, Dugan said.

Police aren’t the only ones worrying what 2011 will bring.

Fire Chief Gary Olson said initial figures show he might have to cut his budget by $4.3 million.

If projections hold, “it’s going to be all of our clerical support staff,” he said. About one-third of the firefighters and paramedics in the 63-person department would lose their jobs and it’s possible one of the city’s two fire stations would have to close.

Negotiations are under way with the union to forge an agreement on a contract that expired Jan. 1, Olson said.

Lynnwood Municipal Court administrator Jill O’Cain told the council Wednesday the $833,000 in anticipated cuts to her department would eliminate 10 of 13 employees.

In memo last week to the mayor and council, Judge Stephen E. Moore suggested it may be necessary for the city to cut its court loose.

“It is the duty of the executive and legislative branches to adequately fund the court,” Moore wrote. “In the absence of a willingness to do so, the city should explore the possibility of disestablishing its own court and contracting with Snohomish County for judicial services, as it has done in the distant past.”

In the days and weeks ahead, the council will continue meeting with department heads in an effort to ease the impact of cuts as much as possible.

Frank Navage, president of local 3035 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said so far no talks are scheduled with the city’s administration.

“As a general philosophy, we would like everybody to share in the pain, so to speak, and not exempt any particular group,” he said.

Council President Ted Hikel on Friday said the city’s budget dilemma is urgent but far from a disaster.

“We have a long way to go,” said Hikel, referring to the December deadline for approving the next two-year budget. “If we didn’t look at the budget early, we wouldn’t be doing our job.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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