BELLINGHAM - Mayor Kelli Linville is proposing a 2013 city budget that will mostly hold the line on spending, trimming about four positions through attrition and aiming to end deficit spending in 2014.
Linville's draft budget, presented at the council's Monday, Oct. 8, meeting, envisions a 2013 deficit of about $400,000 that will be met by drawing down reserves. That's out of a total general fund budget plan for spending $67.4 million - about one-tenth of 1 percent more than the expected spending total for 2012.
By 2014, Linville said she expects to have spending and city income back in sync for the first time since the economic bust about five years ago.
According to data in Linville's preliminary 2013 budget, the city will have the equivalent of about 845 full-time employees in 2013, down from 849 in 2012. Linville said she expects to achieve the small trim in staffing through voluntary departures and retirements.
The city's workforce peaked at about 916 positions in 2008 under a budget drafted in 2007, before the full extent and length of the economic downturn were fully understood.
"I'm feeling better about the economy than I was," Linville said Monday. "But it's gong to be a while before we get back to 2007 levels," Linville said.
While the City Council has agreed with those broad budgetary goals, some of the specific changes Linville is proposing could trigger lively discussions as council members review the facts and figures in the months ahead. While the mayor starts the budget process with her draft proposals, the council has the authority to approve the final budget regulating city spending for the coming year.
Linville said she is trying to focus the available city revenues on essential city services. To do that, she proposes:
Ending a $350,000-a-year general fund subsidy to the city's Public Development Authority, launched in 2008 under former Mayor Dan Pike to spearhead development of city-owned real estate parcels. Linville said the authority could continue to operate using revenue from the parking fund, which got a $1.2 million cash infusion late in 2011 after the authority arranged the sale of a city-owned parcel on Cornwall Avenue. But that decision will be up to the council. Linville said she would just as soon abolish the authority and doesn't want to keep paying for it with general revenues that also support public safety and parks.
Getting the city out of the business of making and managing grants to human service agencies. The city now makes about $137,000 worth of these grants per year. Linville wants to appropriate a similar lump sum to the United Way and specify in general terms what kind of human services should get the support.
"There are a lot of things that we absolutely have to do," Linville said. "When we spend time doing other things like administering grants that somebody else could do for us, then we aren't getting our own work done."
Backing off on plans for expanded public and educational television services, and instead dedicating cable television franchise revenue to badly needed upgrades of city computer systems. Linville contends that upgrading city information technology would mean money-saving efficiency improvements at City Hall.
Shifting some transportation revenue raised by the voter-approved two-tenths of 1 percent Transportation Benefit District sales tax, to provide more money for street repaving and bike and pedestrian improvements. Since voters approved the tax in 2010, it has been raising about $4 million per year, which the council has chosen to split roughly evenly among Whatcom Transportation Authority bus service, repaving projects and bike-pedestrian projects. Now that the tax increase has achieved its goal of re-establishing WTA service cuts made in the recession, Linville argues that more money can be made available for other needs.
"We'll look at it according to what the needs are instead of an arbitrary division of the money," Linville said. "The needs are not divided into nice little thirds."
Linville, the City Council and city department heads will hold a series of Monday afternoon budget work sessions in October and November to hammer out a final budget for council approval.
Linville also wants the council to agree on a preliminary budget plan for 2014 as part of a gradual transition to a biennial budget process.