Bellingham’s first biennial budget will add code enforcement officer, support health care enrollment

City Council has approved its first biennial budget, with a projected $1.1 million deficit for the General Fund over 2015-16.

Before approving the budget during the regular meeting Monday, Dec. 8, council members spent several weeks working with city departments and making a few amendments to Mayor Kelli Linville’s proposal. Most of those changes will draw from the General Fund reserves for lack of other funding sources, bringing what was expected to be a difference of $650,000 by 2016 up to $1.1 million.

With about $142 million budgeted for the General Fund, the roughly $1.1 million deficit represents a difference of about 0.79 percent.

Staff will try to address the difference during the supplemental budget process starting early next year, said Brian Heinrich, deputy administrator in the mayor’s office.

“We’ll be asking ‘How do we get there?’” Heinrich said.

In addition to evaluating current city processes to find inefficiencies and make cuts if necessary, staff will look to see if revenue can be increased.

“Revitalizing our downtown area naturally lends itself to new revenue,” Heinrich said. “We’re also asking, ‘Where else do we invest in the city to get the best return on our investment?’”

Here are a few of the changes that were made to Linville’s draft budget:

•  Add $212,877 to the police department over two years to add one full-time code enforcement officer. Council member Jack Weiss proposed the amendment to “assist in the current compliance backlog of enforcement actions as well as the expected case load of resolving illegal units discovered under the registration component of the rental safety program,” according to city documents. The council has not yet passed a rental registration ordinance.

Funding source: General Fund (reserves), potential to be partly funded by a rental registration program if one is implemented.

•  Add $89,655 to the library budget over two years for additional staff to keep the Barkley and Fairhaven branches open four extra hours per week. With the increase each branch will be open 24 hours per week. Weiss proposed the amendment.

Funding source: General Fund (reserves).

•  Add $160,000 over two years to support Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement in finding and enrolling eligible people in health care coverage, and expanding the intensive case management program. Council member Terry Bornemann proposed the amendment.

Funding source: General Fund (reserves). Bornemann recommended using a portion of new business and operations tax revenue collected after eliminating a PeaceHealth tax exemption.

•  The city will hold off on $1 million in annual stormwater projects over the biennium to maintain Public Works reserves.

•  Add $49,000 over the biennium to be matched by Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism for a downtown ambassador pilot program. Council member Michael Lilliquist first proposed the change, and Bornemann moved to add the item to the budget Monday, Dec. 8.

Funding source: General Fund (reserves), and matching funds from the lodging tax-supported contract with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, according to city documents.

The final budget documents will be posted online at cob.org/government/budget/.