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Buckley associate planner part of budget ax

The Buckley City Council hosted its first formal budget discussion to address what will be done about a deficit of approximately $278,000 heading into discussions surrounding its 2010 financial plan.

Next year’s budget is far from being set, as the City Council is not expected to give final approval until December.

The hot topic during the early stages of the two-and-a-half hour meeting Sept. 23 at the Multi-Purpose Center was the laying off of associate city planner Suriya Rasheed, which will officially transpire today, Wednesday.

Councilman Randy Reed, who chairs this year’s series of budget meetings, expressed his disappointment regarding the elimination of the position, which functioned as a department of one.

“If we eliminate that position, we will never realize the same planning savings that we’ve enjoyed by having Suriya,” Reed said. “Suriya has been an invaluable asset to us in that she has updated myself and other council members on what is going on in Pierce County and has notified me about the availability of certain grants that have become available.”

Reed took the opportunity to express his displeasure with the way city administration handled the matter.

“I didn’t like the way we had to find out about her being laid off, before our first official budget meeting had even taken place,” Reed said.

“How much more would you like me to grovel and apologize for not letting the council members know about the elimination of that position sooner?” Mayor Pat Johnson said.

“As I told you and the other council members in the last city council meeting, Suriya came to me with this student loan application form that required that I sign on the line to testify that she indeed was employed with the City of Buckley.”

Johnson said she could not in good conscience sign that loan application as though things were going to remain as they had been with the position. “That just wouldn’t have been right,” explained Johnson. “That was not an easy thing for me to tell her about her layoff right then and there, and I for one couldn’t have looked at myself in the mirror if I would have signed that application.”

City Council chairwoman of public safety, Christy Boyle Barrett, one of the three members of the council’s finance committee, came to the mayor’s defense.

“Don’t forget, she was an associate city planner and there was no where else we could have cut from,” Boyle Barrett said. “We deliberated for over six hours. We can hire from outside to fill that planning need and, besides, Dave (Schmidt, city administrator) has done a lot of planning in the past.”

Schmidt then interjected that he would not do “one more minute of planning” for the city.

“Planning is not in my job description and I do not get paid to do that,” Schmidt said. “I have done quite a bit of planning in the past and have received nothing but abuse for the extra work I’ve done.”

In a phone interview the following day, Schmidt maintained that he disagreed with Reed because there are a lot of cities, Orting among them, that have eliminated their planning department in favor of using outside planning contractors.

“Orting has been very happy with the planning service they have received and if we don’t go with the same planner they’re using we might ask Bonney Lake if we could use one of the three planners they still have in their planning department,” he said. “Tough times sometimes require that cities share services.”

He pointed out that Buckley building inspector Dean Munday is working half-time for the city of Edgewood and the cities of Carbonado and Wilkeson depend on the Buckley Police Department to patrol their towns. “It’s just not all that unusual in this day and age,” Schmidt said.

The Sept. 23 meeting ended amiably as Reed suggested that each council member share what he or she considered one item in the general fund that they didn’t wish to see eliminated when it came down to crunch time.

The consensus seemed to be leaning toward four main untouchables: police and fire protection, along with the continued operation of the senior and youth centers.

“The reason it is important to not cut back any further on the funding of either the youth or senior center, is because if any more funding is stripped away from those entities in the city’s general fund, then the grants that Jennifer Bacon has worked so hard to secure for those centers are in jeopardy of disappearing,” Schmidt said.

As for the police department gobbling up 50 percent of the general fund as it did in 2009, Schmidt said that is not out of the ordinary.

“That is the case in a number of cities,” he said, noting that Buckley citizens have made it clear they want to feel safe in their homes.

Schmidt noted that dealing with the nuts and bolts of the budget process is never simple.

“The state Office of Financial Management’s numbers are always a moving target and seem to be getting worse every month, particularly when it comes to the gas tax dollars that are going to be coming our way,” he said.

“As people travel less, using less gas, that’s less money that goes into cities’ general fund.”

Another item being proposed is a freeze on the salaries of the city’s exempt employees, including Schmidt, the police and fire chiefs, the finance director and building officer.

The next budget meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Buckley Multi-Purpose Center, 811 Main St. The meetings are open to the public, but the council does not take input.

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