Civic Agenda: Mayor's adjusted budget proposes changes for 2014

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 6, 2013 

Tomorrow I present to the Bellingham City Council my 2014 adjusted budget, containing proposed expenditures guided by direction from the council, our ongoing discussions about priorities, and principles and proposals developed with my leadership team.

A spending plan for 2014 was adopted by the City Council along with the 2013 budget. The changes I am proposing to the 2014 spending plan reflect our vision for how the city can provide the best services possible in an improving-yet-fickle fiscal environment.

My goals for the city budget since I became mayor have been to balance expenses with revenues, today and in the years ahead, and to make investments that are strategic and sustainable. The 2014 budget adjustments I am proposing achieve these goals, and the process we are following moves us closer to adopting a true biennial budget.

SECOND HALF OF TWO-YEAR SPENDING PLAN

In 2012, I was given clear direction from the City Council to move toward operating the city on a biennial - two-year - budget cycle and balance revenues and expenditures by 2014. We adopted a 2013 budget and 2014 spending plan as an interim step, with plans to begin a true two-year budget for the 2015/2016 biennium.

Since council adopted a spending plan for 2014, we are recommending changes to the 2014 portion of that adopted plan. You will see this reflected in budget documents and presentations to council, where we will focus most of our attention on updating projections and describing additions and changes.

The adjustments I am proposing to the 2014 spending plan make strategic additions to our public safety, information technology and planning and community development service areas. Previous council actions articulate funding public safety first and making necessary capital investments and improvements ahead of implementing new programs. The additions I propose in the 2014 adjusted budget are in line with those goals.

We also were able to balance our General Fund operating expenses and revenues, retain General Fund reserves above the adopted 12 percent guideline, and make one-time capital investments. As the economy continues to show signs of improvement, I am confident that the investments I am proposing in staffing levels and facility improvements will result in better service to our community.

I would like to thank the department heads and their staff for their work on the proposed 2014 budget adjustments. We worked as a city team to develop a city budget in line with city priorities. Special thanks to Interim Finance Director Brian Henshaw and the Budget Office. Their expertise and dedication to sound fiscal management and careful stewardship of public funds is very much appreciated.

BUDGETS GUIDED BY PRINCIPLES

As we begin working together to finalize our 2014 budget, I'd like to remind the community of the guiding principles I developed with my leadership team shortly after taking office.

-- 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 info and data.

-- Require transparency and accountability.

These principles continue to serve us well in meeting our city mission to support safe, satisfying and prosperous community life by providing the citizens of Bellingham with quality, cost-effective services that meet today's needs and form a strong foundation for the future. In addition to meeting council direction, my 2014 proposals are based on these principles.

Previous legislative action, the council's adopted Legacies and Strategic Commitments, council's adopted Financial Guidelines and recommendations of the Capital Facilities Task Force also continue to guide my administration and were important to the development of proposed changes to the 2014 budget.

2014 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

The 2014 budget adjustments I am proposing include:

-- Maintaining citywide priorities and 2014 work plans to deliver essential city services and top priority initiatives.

-- Increasing public safety personnel in the Police Department.

-- Providing funding to implement the Capital Facilities Plan.

-- Investing General Fund reserves in capital facilities and technology, including upgrades to the Federal Building to serve as city government offices, funding to co-locate city/county and port emergency operations and new permit system software, all while balancing the 2014 General Fund operating budget.

PUBLIC INVITED TO LEARN MORE

The proposed 2014 adjusted budget will be posted on the city website (cob.org) beginning the afternoon of Oct. 7. Budget work sessions with the City Council will be scheduled throughout October and November, beginning Oct. 14. Check the council's published agendas for schedule details, including opportunities for Bellingham residents to learn more and comment.

We have a wonderful community and must work together to care for it by setting priorities and paying for them. I look forward to further discussion with staff, council and the community in the coming weeks. Please contact my office at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org if you have any questions.

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about city of Bellingham issues and projects.

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