Lynnwood faces budget worries

LYNNWOOD — Disagreements between elected officials in this city are not new, but money shortages are.

The worst-case financial situation for Lynnwood in 2010 puts it $5 million in the hole compared with its budget for the year, officials said.

Historically, Lynnwood has been flush with sales-tax revenue from the Alderwood mall and a multitude of other stores. Because of the economic downturn, the city might have to resort to furloughs or layoffs to balance the budget, City Councilman Mark Smith said.

“Everything has to be on the table,” he said.

The situation has some City Council members pointing fingers at Mayor Don Gough and the city’s finance department.

Some council members want to hire an outside firm to audit the city’s finances because they don’t trust the administration’s numbers. The council is scheduled to discuss that possibility tonight. The meeting is 7 p.m. at City Hall, 19100 44th Ave. W.

“It’s hard to be this far out of whack in a couple of months,” said Councilman Jim Smith, who lost to Gough in the mayoral race in November.

Gough said while there’s a downturn that needs to be addressed, some council members are exaggerating the situation.

His finance department has pegged the range of possibilities at $3 million over revenue projections to $5 million under.

“The more likely scenario is 1 or 2 or 3” percent under budget, Gough said.

He said his department is working on a report that will include recommendations for measures to balance the budget. He expects it to be finished later this week, in time for a budget meeting next Monday.

Regarding the outside audit, the mayor said the council has not discussed it with him.

“We have a very competent staff that puts these things together on a regular basis,” Gough said.

As revenue shortages began to pop up last year, the council was assured interim measures to trim the budget would solve the problem, Mark Smith said.

But they did not.

The city cut 3.5 percent of its budget in the middle of 2009 and 1.6 percent more at the end of the year, according to Mark Smith. The city has a two-year budget that covers 2009 to 2010. The reductions were made through efficiencies and delaying capital projects, he said.

Councilman Jim Smith believes Gough is withholding information from the council.

“We were told we were on solid ground financially and we weren’t,” Jim Smith said. “We all knew what was going on with the economy.”

Gough said predicting the economy is not an exact science.

“Do you think that we said in this thing that we’re the magic people and we know where the economy goes?” he said.

The council might not have approved the $25.5 million reconstruction of the Lynnwood Recreation Center currently under way if it had more information, Councilman Jim Smith said. He opposed the plan and called instead for a $9 million remodel.

Councilman Ted Hikel said the city was advised that it needed the bigger project to remain competitive with other cities. The project was paid for with bonds, some general-fund money and small tax increases on utilities and garbage, he said.

“The entire funding was in front of the council,” Hikel said.

Hikel sees no need for an outside review of the city’s finances and budgeting.

“It’s been a very transparent process; all we have to do is ask and the information’s provided,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439, sheets@heraldnet.com.

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