Sumner battles deficit

The difficult economic times were evident at the Nov. 18 Sumner City Council meeting, when the council passed its first biennial budget.

Position cuts made to the city’s first biennial budget

The difficult economic times were evident at the Nov. 18 Sumner City Council meeting, when the council passed its first biennial budget.

Sumner’s total budget for 2009-10 is about $76 million with the general fund accounting for $18 million.

The budget was introduced at a special council meeting Oct. 8 and Sumner faced a $2.3 million deficit.

City officials managed to balance the budget, but not without making some cuts.

The actions taken by the city to avoid a deficit included leaving three city positions vacant and laying off one employee.

Parks and Facilities Director Lee Anderson was laid off but will continue working through March 31 because the council wanted to provide time to find a new position.

The trio of vacant positions will be left open through 2010 or until it is necessary or financially possible to fill them. Vacant are an assistant planner’s post in Community Development, a clerk in Administration and a police officer.

The city’s hanging basket program is not included in the budget and the senior center’s hours are being trimmed. Staffing in the city’s planning and police departments is reduced.

The city’s domestic violence advocate is still employed, but will work fewer hours.

Not all of the funds used to balance the budget come from reducing positions and programs. The city is using approximately $700,000 in savings from previous budget years in addition to the required $1.1 million in reserves.

Sumner’s budget includes 40 new funds for construction, debt service, trust accounts and reserves.

Because the cost of operations and construction exceeded revenue from water and sewer rates, a rate study of each fund will be conducted in 2009 to determine utility rates.

The general fund partially finances the city’s street projects, but a drop in motor vehicle excise taxes and less gas tax revenue impacted the street fund. In the budget, $200,000 in real estate excise tax is used to support street maintenance. This will make it more difficult for the city to fund other capital projects, like parks and trails. The street fund is used for maintenance and operation of city streets, but does not have the means for minor street improvements. The city stated after studying long-term street maintenance costs, other funding options will need to be explored.

A change in the 2009-10 budget stemmed from the annexation of fire services into East Pierce Fire and Rescue. About $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value from the city’s property tax rate was removed and the EMS levy of 43 cents and the responsibility for fire and emergency medical service was transferred to the district.

The city estimated the annexation saves at least $1 million per year. City officials said the annexation also provides better services to the community.

The fire district will receive a portion of revenue from the city’s property tax. As a result, sales tax revenue now is now 48 percent of the city’s general fund, which, according to the city, puts added pressure on businesses to bring sales tax revenue to the area.

At the council meeting, changes were introduced to the budget before its passing.

Amendments included one for $130,000 over the next two years for alternative-fuel vehicles.

The amendment would make it possible to explore such fuels as natural gas to power city vehicles and is in the early planning stages.

Another amendment was introduced to purchase two city of Sumner flags, the cost of which was not to exceed $500. The council did not vote to include the flag amendment due to spending concerns.

Mayor Dave Enslow said he didn’t favor the flag amendment because it was time to continue tightening strings and everyone needed to make sacrifices.

He said the economy requires changes of everyone, comparing the situation to having eaten steak last year and eating macaroni and cheese this year.

Enslow said while the layoff in the budget was unfortunate, he was pleased with the budget overall.

“It’s a budget that does very little tax-raising,” he said.

Councilmember Randy Hynek said he couldn’t support the budget as written because he didn’t see the economy getting better within the next year.

All other council members supported the budget.

Reach Chaz Holmes at cholmes@courierherald.com or 360-802-8208.

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