Black Diamond council approves budget for remaining year

Black Diamond residents are probably sighing in relief, as their City Council passed a budget last week to fund the city for the rest of the year. Approving the budget on March 2 both averts a city shutdown – which would have affected water, sewer, fire and police services – as well as another potential Oakpointe lawsuit.

Several Black Diamond residents stood and gave their city council a round of applause when a 2017 budget was approved for the rest of the year. Photo by Ray Still

Black Diamond residents are probably sighing in relief, as their City Council passed a budget last week to fund the city for the rest of the year.

Approving the budget on March 2 both averts a city shutdown – which would have affected water, sewer, fire and police services – as well as another potential Oakpointe lawsuit.

Up until last week, the city was battling over two budgets.

One, dubbed Mayor Carol Benson’s budget, was the budget the city was developing since summer 2016.

The other was a collection of budget amendments submitted by Councilman Brian Weber at the end of the budget-approving process in December.

Weber’s budget was criticized by Benson and city Financial Director May Miller as being unbalanced, and Oakpointe claimed it would violate the developer’s legally-binding development and funding agreements for its two projects in Black Diamond.

The fighting over the budget led to the city approving Benson’s budget for three months on Dec. 27, 2016, so additional discussion could be held over which budget the city would go with for the remainder of the year.

Compromise was slow in coming, but by the March 2 meeting, it appeared some common ground was found and some of Weber’s amendments were added to Benson’s budget.

There was only one amendment that affected city dollars made to Benson’s budget: an additional $50,000 in revenue and expenditures in Black Diamond’s General Government Capitol Fund to provide funds for finishing the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is now more than a year late in being submitted to the county.

The extra $50,000 to this fund comes from the city’s beginning fund balance, Miller said at the meeting, explaining the extra funds are coming from some unexpected real estate excise taxes the city collected at the beginning of the year.

Another amendment created a designated contingency account which siphoned off $226,112 from the city’s $886,291 undesignated contingency account, Miller said in a later interview. This just moves money from one account to another, and doesn’t affect the budget’s overall total, she said.

Other amendments include not decreasing ending fund balances except with council approval, not increasing the city’s full time employee (FTE) levels without council approval, and all collective bargaining changes to the budget are subject to council approval as a supplemental budget ordinance.

RFP FOR LEGAL REPRESENTATION

There were several other stipulations council members Pat Pepper, Erika Morgan and Weber wanted Benson to concede before the council passed her budget, but only one was finally agreed on – sending out a request for proposals for a new city attorney.

Since January 2016, the Black Diamond City Council has gone through a number of city attorneys.

The first was Carol Morris, who was the city’s attorney when Pepper and Weber were sworn onto the council after the Nov. 2015 election.

Attorney Yvonne Ward was hired by Benson on April 27 as an interim city attorney, but her contract was never approved by the council.

According to the Black Diamond Municipal Code, the mayor can approve $15,000 or less contracts without council approval.

Ward ended her second stint as the city’s interim legal counsel on June 2, and Benson hired David Linehan from the Kenyon Disend firm to serve as the city’s legal counsel until a more permanent contract was established.

The council did not approve Linehan’s contract and instead attempted to hire Vancil Law Offices on July 7.

Benson flatly stated she would not pay Vancil for their services and denied the contract.

Since then, Linehan has remained the interim city attorney, paid for with Benson’s contracting powers.

But with the city having put out another RFP last Friday, his days at the city may be numbered – although he didn’t seem altogether shaken by the news.

“I’ll just repeat that both I and my partner, Mike Kenyon, have said: We are happy to step aside, as soon as the mayor and the council find a lawyer they can agree with,” Linehan said at the March 2 meeting, and at multiple meeting before.

Pepper, Morgan and Weber also suggested that Benson should sign an ordinance that would rewrite her contracting powers before a budget was passed.

Morgan said the ordinance should completely cut off Benson’s contracting power.

Weber suggested the ordinance should limit Benson to approving one $15,000 or less contract.

Miller said these ideas would tie up council even more than it currently is.

“We have many things that are $30 that require a small contract,” she said. “I cannot imagine how many meetings, or how many how long a meeting would be if every single contract that comes before the city came before you.”

Benson added that interfering with her contracting powers would violate the recent ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Janet Helson.

Helson ruled on Feb. 3 that the City Council cannot interfere with Benson’s defense of the city during litigation of Oakpointe’s Open Public Meeting Act lawsuit.

Weber pulled his support for limiting Benson’s contracting powers “on good faith” that the city will send out an RFP and a new city attorney will be hired.

Neither Morgan’s nor Weber’s proposed ordinances had a draft ready at the March 2 meeting.

More in News

New utility included in Enumclaw budget; final vote set for Nov. 27

Significant progress has been made on crafting a 2018 Enumclaw budget, a document that could forever change the way the city collects and disperses certain funds. The plan now under way would see creation of a stormwater utility probably by August of the coming year.

Proposed recycling center sparks environmental fears

A proposed material processing facility outside of Enumclaw has some local conservationists worried about how it may affect the Green River and other natural environments. “The location of this, next to this natural area, just is not right. It doesn’t make sense to us at all, for a variety of reasons,” said Bernie McKinney, president of the Green River Coalition, a non-profit preservationist group.

Abigail Hill, 19, is crowned Miss Washington by the 2017 title winner, Alex Carlson-Helo. Photo courtesy Jerry and Lois Photography
Local Miss Washington prepares for national stage

That’s right — Enumclaw is competing in Miss U.S.A. Abigail Hill, the city’s newest star, was recently crowned Miss Washington , clearing the way for her to compete nationally in the spring.

Beyond the Borders now travels from Sumner to Bonney Lake

Come December, it’ll be easier for youth, seniors, people with disabilities or low-income to travel between Sumner and Bonney Lake.

Early start to Crystal ski season

The outdoor season has officially greeted those heading uphill, with snow deep enough to enjoy.

Suspect faces possible ‘third strike’ after alleged car chase, kidnapping

A suspect with a long criminal history finds himself in “third strike” jeopardy, the result of an alleged robbery in Enumclaw and ensuing car chase out of town.

Why now is a good time for a flu shot | Public Health Insider

With the holidays drawing near, many of us look forward to travel or seeing family and friends. And just as our schedules get busier, it’s also the time of year when the flu starts to circulate. We turned to Libby Page, manager of our immunizations program, to get the scoop on flu vaccine.

Election 2017: Change in Enumclaw; Buckley mayor race close

The 2017 general election is over, and although the results are still two weeks from being certified, many candidates are in the clear to take up their elected positions come winter.

Get your fill of winter activities on Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier’s landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation in winter.

Holiday shows bring out the classics, family favorites

Sumner’s two performance arts groups have a slew of holiday shows for you to enjoy.

Sumner students spent summer learning to define, defy boundaries

Four Sumner High School students explored the world of boundaries last summer when they attended the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization’s World Student Conference in New York.