News

City faces budget crunch

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent knew in December that the city council’s 11th-hour budget would not be sustainable and she is now working on an amendment to the budget that better reflects reality.

“I just knew we couldn’t sustain the 26 people they wanted to keep,” Lent said. “I had 26 people that I felt were middle management. It didn’t take any of our workers off the street or the ones that supply the services. I felt over the years we could sustain with 26 fewer employees and that allowed us straight money for our streets, for our contingency fund and for our fund balance. It gave us operational money.”

Lent said that when it comes to the budget, and her accurate prediction that it wouldn’t be sustainable, her hands are somewhat tied.

“I knew, but I couldn’t convince council,” she said. “Council has the final say on the budget. I can veto what they do on policy and referendums and all of the other things that they do I have veto power, except the budget. I prepare the budget and if they see changes they want to make they have the final say.”

Nearly across the board, following their vote to pass the 2012 budget, council members voiced a belief that the budget they approved would not make it through the year.

City Council President Jim McDonald said that mid-year budget adjustments are fairly routine.

“It’s still a little too early to tell where we’re going to be,” McDonald said. “There will be a budget adjustment, but I don’t know when it will be adjusted. We approved a budget that prevented all the layoffs and that’s what we’re talking about if the revenue doesn’t keep up.”

As things stand now, Lent and department directors are giving up some of their own money to support other positions.

“In my case, because I don’t get a day off, after all the taxes are paid then I pay back $500 a month,” Lent said. “They deduct $500 from my salary in order to sustain somebody else’s paycheck. The rest of the people are taking from 8 to 12 days of furlough, which means their benefits are still in place, but they’re not getting paid for that day.”

In all, Lent said it works out to about 4.7 percent of her and her directors’ salaries that are being given back. Other factors have also contributed to the budget crunch.

“Because of a broken water main and because of our serial investigations with our police, some of the money that we’ve had to spend to date was not in the budget and somehow we’re going to have to adjust the budget to reflect that,” Lent said.

Lent said that she hasn’t made any final decisions about what she will recommend to the council.

“Since they have final approval, we may make some suggestions, but if they have to give up something in order to balance something else, it’s a conversation. It will be a conversation. I still have to look at staffing. I still have to look at all the departments. We have had four people retire so we are making some headway. I’d love to do everything through attrition. That’s the normal way of doing it. We have some longtime employees from 25 to 38 years that are comfortable in their position and they don’t look at retirement, so it will be difficult, but we’ll show them where that gap is.”

 

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