15 Sep 2014
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City Budget for 2013-2014: City Council Live Blog

Keep up with the latest City Council developments on Mercer Island Patch

City Budget for 2013-2014: City Council Live Blog

10:36 pm

Council is adjourned.

10:30 pm

Grausz asks about parks planing at Mercerdale Park. Deputy City Manager Noel Treat says that the mini-master plan is focused on the thrift shop, parking and see if a splash park could be placed as well, based on an earlier request from City Council.

The council decides to hold off on giving a "thumbs-up" for the "Mini-Master plan" for Mercerdale Park.

10:27 pm

Conrad says he thinks the most likely scenario that could emerge is an expansion of the Thrift Shop northwards into the playground area and moving the playground to another location in the park. Brahm also advocates for more parking space.

Goodwin says a previous plan to relocate the Thrift Shop to the old Recycling Center at the edge of Mercerdale and Bicentennial Park.

10:22 pm

Corder addresses the council on expanding Mercer Island Thrift Shop's revenues. The city is asking to expand the existing Thrift Shop by drafting a "mini-master plan" of Mercerdale Park and the Thrift Shop. The Parks & Rec department also proposed a spray park.

"The idea is to look at the whole entity rather than one or two components," said Councilwoman Brahm.

10:19 pm

Bertlin asks when the Thrift Store most most needs staff. MIYFS Director Cindy Goodwin says it's at 7 a.m. when they set up the shop and could use the help most at that time.

A unanimous council agrees that an administative assistant is needed, but they're not unanimous on the thrift shop employee.

10:09 pm

The city is proposing to hire a Youth and Family Services administrative assistant and a thrift shop producation lead. The city was once able to rely on work-study students but due to a heavy cut in federal student aid. The admin assistant will work at the front desk of the MIYFS and Parks and Rec Department and the thrift shop employee will help the shop meet sales growth targets.

10:01 pm

The police department reduced one "hire-ahead" officer last biennium and continues the cut into next year. The police department had no retirements or officers going out on disability, in addition to a new officer they were able to bring online quickly.

"We had some good things happen in the past biennium," said Chief Holmes.

9:51 pm

Conrad addresses Marine Patrol services that Mercer Island provides. Chief Ed Holmes explains that the city serves Renton and a service swap with Bellevue. Medina, Yarrow Point and Hunts Point contract with Seattle Harbor Patrol and King County is the third provider.

"Medina paid more for the service and they get lower service," said Conrad. "They chose to go for paying more, for a lower level of service — that's the back story."

9:43 pm

The police department is next. A base budget of $5.81 million, one of the city's largest budgets.

Cero asks why the MIPD maintains a third boat that is usually kep in reserve out of the water at City Hall.

"When I look out in that parking lot I see a very inexpensive insurance policy," Operations Commander Dave Jokinen.

9:34 pm

"These are discretionary funds in the budget and in tight budgets like these we are asking them to raise revenues through fees," said Conrad. "If we can't do this, I'm going to be blunt, but if you can't do this you're not too far from having to do it in public safety."

9:29 pm

The Mercer Island Community and Event Center subsidy policy: The city is proposing not adjusting the city's annual subsidy of $329,000 for the MICEC.

The city plans to bump-up MICEC revenues and there are no major replacements and repairs in the biennium, although several challenges compete for attention.

9:25 pm

The Summer Celebration fireworks show comes back as an option to resotre funding. The fireworks were funded fully by donors for the past two years.

9:22 pm

Finance Director Corder says $13,000 per year is legally possible, due to some general funds that were once placed in the fund.

A consensus of the council emerges to restore the funding for Mostly Music in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park from the 1% for the Arts fund for the biennium.

9:13 pm

Councilman Mike Cero advocates that the Mercer Island Arts Council be permanently funded from the 1% for the Arts Fund.

Councilman Mike Grady echoes other comments that he's concerned about the legality of using those funds, which come from the Real Estate Exise Tax (REET).

"If we do entertain the idea of using the 1% for the Arts that we only use it as a one-time funding source for 2013," said Brahm.

9:05 pm

Parks & Rec Director proposed restoring funding Mostly Music in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park to the General Fund Budget for the Mercer Island Arts Council. In 2011, funding from the 1% for the Arts funding and in 2012 the Arts Council cut several programs and performances.

For the proposed budget in 2013, the Mercer Island Arts Council base budget is $23,000. Before their budget was cut in 2010, the council had $48,000 to spend on programs and performances.

8:59 pm

Bertlin asks about repeatedly seeing increases across the budget for "transaction fees".

City Accounting Manager LaJuan Tuttle explains the increases are being driven by user fees and Visa and Mastercard.

"That front desk is THE face of Mercer Island ... A very important position," said Councilwoman Brahm. "I endorse that."

8:53 pm

Mayor Bassett warns that an expectation of citizen participation in volunteering might not extend to picking up the trash and "cleaning up bathrooms". Radio Talk Show host Michael Medved gets a shout-out by the mayor as a "Super volunteer" who volunteers with Parks & Rec every week to help take out the trash.

"We shouldn't assume all our citizens will be like that," Bassett said.

8:51 pm

Conrad reminds the council that up until now, the city is maintaining the level of service at the same level as it was before.

8:49 pm

Parks & Rec Director Bruce Fletcher:

"We've got 1,000s of hours of volunteers, but we use them up on open space," he said. "To say that we can use just volunteer work to maintain a "B" level of service is a stretch."

8:45 pm

Grady recommends the city take a look at solar-powered trash recepticles that can compact trash.

Councilwomen Tana Senn and Jane Mayer Brahm agree that Groveland doesn't belong on the same list as the other parks and is a "different type" of park. Brahm says that she remembered Mercer Island having a very active "Adopt-a-Park" program in the 1980s.

8:41 pm

Parks & Rec Director Bruce Fletcher says it would take roughly $25,000 to restart the lifeguards program at Groveland Beach.

Deputy Mayor Grausz:

"My opinion still hasn't changed on this issue from two years ago and I'm still opposed to this reduction," he said. "This is one of the things that we on Mercer Island are known for."

8:38 pm

"If you did this reduction, wouldn't this be a bit of a disaster on our hands?" asks Mayor Bassett.

"There will be a reduction. It will get done, but there might be a wait time for that. What it may mean is another broken irrigation head in Mercerdale Park and we'll just shut the system off until we can get to it."

8:29 pm

The budget recommendation is also to award the current parks facilities scheduler a fulltime staff position, hiring her out a contract. This person is the primary point of contact to the Ballfield User Group.

Bertlin asks about liability on retaining contractors versus full employees, and is assured the compensation issue is not the same as Microsoft.

Service reductions, projected to save $60,000 a year, are scheduled for the biennium in First Hill Park, Ellis Pond, Slater Park, Secret Park, Rotary Park, Roanoke Park, Groveland Beach and Clarke Beach. That would mean the parks are visited only once a week to mow lawns and pick up litter, while other maintenance would be triggered by inspections and citizen complaints.

8:19 pm

And we're back with the city review of the budget. Citizens will be happy to know that all the meters are working again at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center (the city owed PSE over $35,000 due to a broken meter this year). The Parks and Recreation department is up now.

"Overall, despite some pretty big hits to our fleet and IT (budgets), we're on track to increase 3.7 percent."

The biggest changes to Parks & Rec the coming biennium is an additional staff person proposed for the community center, and a reduction to the level of service in parks from "B" to "C".

Grady asks about restoring cuts to the Lifeguard program, which remain at the same level as the previous two years.

8:16 pm

Matsuura is referring, of course, to the various dedicated funds in the city's overall budget that are restricted by law to specific purposes. The city's overall annual budget is closer to $50 million, but critics say the city has flexibility in how it designates spending for the various funds, and suggest the city is not as constrained as they say.

8:11 pm

Joy Matsuura stops by while council takes a short break and hands me some comments she made that I missed at the start of the meeting. 

"It's not as much fun as staying at home and watching Monday Night Football," she said.

She points to a specific part of her comments she made earlier, which she typed out especially for the meeting.

"To omit 40 percent of the expenses from the so-called budget is confusing and misleading."

8:06 pm

Cero and Grausz debate the merits of the study and fully funding the firefighter's pension versus other priorities.

"You'll need to do something, eventually in the future," said Corder.

"Until we have 3 or 4 claims, I'm very comfortable where it's at," Conrad said.

7:55 pm

Corder reviews the retiree costs for firefighter pensions for pre-LEOFF and LEOFF1. Pre-LEOFF pensioners are funded through 2038. LEOFF pensions are fully funded and long-term benefits are funded through 2024. Full funding through 2040 requires an additional $126K per year — though Deputy Mayor Grausz said it's a bit premature to assume the interest rates used in the study Corder is using.

7:50 pm

Corder: "I think we've more than met you halfway," he said."It you want to say you want more cuts, tell us and we'll bring you back more cuts."

Cero jumps in: "It's all going to be driven by what kind of taxes that we can get in," he says. "The reason I say that is, that's the way this budget is balanced, based on these assumptions."

7:41 pm

Conrad: "This budget is fundamentally presumed on the Utility Tax."

Mayor Bruce Bassett on Suburban Cities: "It's probably money well-spent to be re-engaging with that one."

Cero is asking to wait on adopting that, and want to create a list of items to potentially cut. Other members of the council weigh in, echoing their discomfort to start indicating now on what they want to cut.

Councilman Mike Grady: "If there are questions, let put them in a parking lot and we'll address them," he said. "The one problem we do have is we don't have the whole picture in front of us."

7:34 pm

Conrad tries to explain his rationale for raising a utility tax: "We’re now back to the utility tax as a tool. I did that to send a signal to the public that this isn’t going to be just to pay for salaries ... The council will need to add a funding source to pay for the funding of the city.”

7:33 pm

Cero suggests restoring $60,000 for pay for performance.

Grausz disagrees: "You’re just not seeing this in the private sector right now," he said. "I don’t begrudge anyone in the public sector getting what they’re getting… but I just don’t see in this particular market us loosening up what is happening."

7:27 pm

Corder tees up the "Non-departmental" budget — a budget that includes $50,000 for "miscellanious professional services". Also in the budget is restoring a cut to pay for the city's membership in the Suburban Cities Association.

7:17 pm

Bertlin weighs in with her concerns of how much funding is migrating to utilities. Senn also asks that why the cuts seem to impacting parks and right-of-way maintenance.

Corder moves on to Municipal Court. The city is moving to reduce Judge Stewart's hours, saving the city $21,814 in 2013 and $22,687 in 2014. There's been a 14.6 percent reduction in case filings from 2007 to 2011, is very efficient and the city's analyzed the ideal amount of time the judge should work is .67 to .7 FTE

"I suppose you could take any number of years to come up with that percentage," said Judge Stewart. "My experience is you're going to have peaks and valleys ...  Based on my experience of being here since the 80s, we'll have between 3,200 to 3,500 cases per year. But the numbers can change at any time."

Conrad: "We're going to propose this in 2013," he said. "The judge also provides probationary services — it saves us a lot of money."

7:14 pm

Conrad on City Sustainability Officer Fred Gu, and why he should be instated as a full employee, rather than a contract employee.

"The work that he's done has been consistent, he's done it year after year. So let's just be honest and make him a fulltime employee."

7:10 pm

Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz said he's struck by the amount of money moved out of the General Fund and into the Stormwater Utility Fund and the overall size of the budget.

"I guess I'm sitting here wondering, when we balance parks vs the maintenance of faciliites or roads, is that the right process to have?" he asked.

7 pm

Councilwoman Debbie Bertlin asks about the sale of a city property on First Hill to cover the cost of the city's well in Rotary Park, which is where the roughly $1 million is coming from.

Corder said the city's property on 74th Ave. SE is 30,660 sq ft. and that the "neighborhood interest is significant".

City Manager Rich Conrad advises the council to sell the property as is instead of trying to subdivide it. The property hasn't been appraised since 2008.

"The value of the property has diminished just as the market has," said Conrad. "But we're confident we'll be able to pay for the well without accumulating debt."

6:56 pm

Lake details the increases in the maintenance fund, including nearly $1 million to pay off the debt on installing the city's emergency well and $389,724 in charges from King County for sewer disposal in 2013.

6:53 pm

The Equipment Rental Fund is 8.7 percent higher due to increased fuel costs. In 2013, the city is budgeting an additional $55,000 for 2013.

"We're squeezing this budget this time around," Lake said.

The city operates and maintains 140 vehicles.

6:46 pm

Councilman Mike Cero asks why the inflation of salaries in the Maintenance department is considerably lower than other departments. Corder responds that the reason is .75 FTE is being shifted from that department to the Stormwater Utility (the fleet cost of a street sweeper is also being shifted away from this budget and into the utility).

6:44 pm

It's no humbug: The Town Center holiday lighting program budget has been reduced by nearly 50 percent thanks to a new contract and LED lighting — a $15,000 savings in 2013.

6:39 pm

Councilwoman Tana Senn says she's grateful for the background reading, statistics and information she's been provided outside of City Council meetings to give her additionaly context.

Deputy Finance Director Francie Lake is now presenting a budget analysis for the 2013-2014 biennial budget, focused on the Maintenance, Municipal Court, Non-Departmental, Parks & Recreation, Police, and Youth & Family Services departments.

6:31 pm

At the Oct. 15 meeting, a consensus of the council asked for a review of the city's Human Resources budget. The city compares it's salaries and tries to stay competitive with: Auburn, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish SeaTac and Shoreline

Those are cities that are reviewed for comparing salaries of non-represented employees. Corder explains that while City Hall contracts out payroll services to ADP, the city has a lower ratio of HR employees than other comparable cities do.

Issaquah eliminated a position in HR in 2011, and neither Auburn nor Issaquah have fire departments, which have a heavy impact on HR departments.

HR director is 2.4 percent, Human Resources Specialist is 2.2 percent and Payroll Specialist is 6.5 percent below the comparable cities.

6:26 pm

Corder is fielding questions about the city's contingency fund, which is currently fully funded, but is typically pegged to 10 percent of the total general fund budget. Due to a modest growth in the budget, Corder is asking for new funding options to boost contingency fund investment. He's projecting a defecit of roughly $89,000 in 2013 and $99,000 in 2014.

6:15 pm

City Council has convened a special meeting to begin at 6 p.m.

City Finance Director Chip Corder is presenting responses to all of the council's questions from an Oct. 15 meeting.

(Ed. Note: Sorry about that folks, rain and traffic on I-90 kept me en route to city hall until the meeting had already started.)

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