Monroe considers cutting staff, YMCA pledge to fill budget hole

MONROE — The local YMCA could lose a pledge of more than $1.6 million and 10 city employees could be laid off to address the city’s perilous budget situation.

Officials project that the general fund will end the year $237,000 in the red unless changes are made.

The deficit may balloon to $759,000 next year, the result of declining tax revenue and rising costs.

Mayor Robert Zimmerman proposed a worst-case-scenario fix at the City Council’s Tuesday night meeting. He recommended covering the entire shortfall with 10 layoffs, cutting three police officers, a parks employee, a community service officer and administrative staff.

“We needed to start there and work our way backwards,” Zimmerman said Wednesday.

The city staff already has been thinned by years of hiring freezes. Right now, it has 115 employees, including 25 police officers, city officials said. Most salaries are covered by the general fund, which now stands at $10.27 million.

In an effort to save jobs, the City Council started looking for cuts. Perhaps the most controversial: It voted 5-0 to prematurely end a contract supporting the YMCA.

Councilwoman Margie Rodriguez was absent from the meeting, and Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback did not participate in the vote, because she is the YMCA’s executive director.

The annual payments of $131,700 to the YMCA began in 2007 when the facility opened. They were expected to continue for 12 more years.

The money was used to pay off debt on the facility’s pool. The agreement allowed either side to end it prematurely.

Councilman Tony Balk said halting the payments is necessary to save jobs.

“Can we defend it?” he said of the decision. “I think we can.”

Discussion of the YMCA contract on Tuesday night caught some by surprise. It was not listed as an item for discussion on the agenda.

Cudaback recused herself from the discussion. On Wednesday, she confined her remarks to the history behind the contract, declining to comment on the future impact to the facility.

“I don’t think it (the YMCA) would have been built without that city commitment,” she said.

Cynthia Klever, associate executive director of the branch, said the YMCA may need to start charging residents for exercise programs that traditionally have been free.

“We’re hoping that our members will fight it,” Klever said. “We’re kind of weighing our options right now. It just happened last night.”

The council didn’t limit the cuts to the YMCA.

Nonunion employees will lose scheduled increases in pay and benefits, saving $83,400 next year — roughly the cost of a police officer.

The City Council also wants to renegotiate contracts with its unions.

Current union contracts run through 2011 and include regular pay increases. Many on the council have faulted those raises, which are tied to years of service, not job performance.

The city planned to send out all 10 layoff notices on Wednesday. Some may be rescinded after the council finishes making trims to the budget and chooses which jobs to save.

The police department faces the deepest cuts, in part because it’s the largest department covered by the general fund. It has 46 employees, including 25 officers.

Detective Spencer Robinson, president of the Monroe Police Officers Guild, said losing three officers would turn the department into a reactive force that simply responds to 911 calls.

“I would hope that it’s not a done deal,” he said.

The union is open to discussing its contracts, Robinson said. He also said the council should ask voters for a property tax increase.

“People support law enforcement,” Robinson said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that people are willing to pay taxes for.”

A tax increase was suggested Tuesday, but did not win the council’s support. The majority felt voters would reject it, given the state of the economy.

“It’s kind of a dead issue right now,” Councilman John Stima said.

Monroe isn’t alone in its budget woes.

The city of Lynnwood also is considering cuts to its police department as it prepares its new two-year budget. As many as 23 positions may be lost, representing about a quarter of the force.

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; arathbun@heraldnet.com

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