Last week I presented the preliminary 2013 budget and a proposed 2014 financial plan, guided by direction from the City Council and principles I developed with my leadership team.
These budget proposals reflect my vision for how the city can provide the best services possible in a challenging fiscal environment. While the very worst of our economic challenges appear to be behind us, our community and our city finances are still recovering. My goal is to make sure expenses match revenues, today and in the years ahead, and investments are strategic and sustainable.
PROPOSALS MEET COUNCIL DIRECTION
I was given clear direction from council in crafting the preliminary budget, and I am pleased to report my proposals meet their requests.
We agreed to create a two-year financial plan, which I have provided. Council asked that I balance the general fund with no more than $400,000 in deficit spending in 2013 and a zero deficit in 2014. My proposals meet these important financial targets.
These proposals supports the council's legacies and strategic commitments, council-adopted financial management guidelines, and council-adopted capital facilities task force recommendations.
The proposed 2013 budget also maintains sufficient workforce levels and does not include layoffs, though does rely on specific position reductions through attrition.
BUDGETS GUIDED BY PRINCIPLES
In addition to meeting council direction, my proposals are based on guiding principles developed with my leadership team. We looked carefully at all city services, evaluating each using the principles below:
Provide essential community services;
Pay as we go;
Practice due diligence;
Meet targeted financial reserves;
Follow the rules or change them;
Align resources to achieve city goals;
Fix it first;
Show pride in our work;
Value our employees;
Make choices based on information and data;
Require transparency and accountability.
This thoughtful, practical process ensures that we are directing funding toward the community's most important priorities.
FOCUS ON TOP PRIORITIES
The budgets I have proposed focus on priorities, directing additional resources toward top city and community needs and interests:
Completing a Waterfront District master plan;
Focusing on economic development efforts;
Funding environmental clean-up responsibilities;
Implementing unified Lake Whatcom protection plans;
Maintaining and funding countywide emergency medical services;
Meeting critical facility maintenance and information technology needs.
These are just a few of the existing priorities that we must complete before we can fund other projects and activities that would be nice but are not essential. I recommend the following changes to help boost resources to focus on priorities:
Ending a $260,000-a-year general fund subsidy to the Public Development Authority to free up resources for higher priority city services. We will still promote economic development projects, but without the extra expense of another government agency.
Expanding the use of solid waste utility taxes to fund environmental clean-up liabilities. This could provide up to $500,000 more per year for clean-up efforts.
Reallocating about $500,000 in revenue from the voter-approved Transportation Benefit District sales tax to provide more money for street repaving and bike and pedestrian improvements.
Reducing overall funding for expanded public and educational television services, and instead returning to the general fund an estimated $46,000 per year in cable television franchise revenue, to help support badly needed technology upgrades.
Contracting with United Way to administer city-funded grants to local human services agencies, while continuing city oversight of state and federal resources. This proposal supports the local United Way organization while reducing city administrative expenses. This is an example of partnering with other agencies so the city can focus attention on the things we do best.
These are just some of the ways we can continue to focus on priorities and direct city resources toward them.
PUBLIC INVITED TO LEARN MORE
The proposed 2013 preliminary budget, 2014 financial plan and more are available on the city website at cob.org. Budget work sessions are scheduled throughout October and November, beginning Monday, Oct. 15. Check council's agenda for schedule details, including opportunities for Bellingham residents to learn more and comment.
We have a wonderful community and must work together to support our priorities in a financially responsible way. Please contact my office if you have any questions.
Kelli Linville is mayor of Bellingham. Contact her at 360-778-8100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.