City says budget okay in short term

The Bremerton City Council is poised to squirrel away $115,000 into a contingency reserve fund following a May 23 study session in which mid-year budget adjustments were presented.

The council will vote on setting aside the money at its June 6 business meeting.

“The news was actually pretty good,” said City Council President Jim McDonald. “The biggest plus was the ending fund balance, which takes the city several months to calculate because it takes time to close the accounts. Our ending fund balance was a half million dollars over where we expected it to be which helped cover unforeseen police and fire costs.”

The prospect of city staff layoffs, meanwhile, remains a topic for a later date.

“It’s a little soon to tell based on what our revenues are actually gonna come in at and how we can control expenses the rest of the year,” McDonald said. “All of the departments did really well and came in under budget.”

The city faced an expected strain on its budget when tens of thousands dollars in additional costs to clean up the Jan. 18 snowstorm and more than $70,000 in police overtime were added to the bottom line.

McDonald said that he’s “guardedly optimistic” that pink slips won’t be necessary, but the city isn’t out of the woods yet.

“But, the mid-year budget adjustments did not affect any of the employee issues because we’re not up to speed on our revenues yet,” he said. “It’s too early still. We just got the April report and we’re going into June already.”

While McDonald said that the city’s short-term prognosis looks good, the city’s “sustainability question,” based on conservative forecasts, isn’t quite as rosy.

“Going out three years, it shows our ending fund balance in the red almost $2.7 million,” McDonald said. “We always have to be mindful about the future. What are the assumptions about income and what are the assumptions about expenses? That’s that where you have to challenge expenses or do something with expenses.”

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, though, said that based on the current budget, “We’re going to have to try thinning our staffing levels” at some point.

“We’re looking for as many efficiencies as we can,” Lent added.

Councilwoman Faye Flemister said that staff reductions certainly cannot be ruled out any time soon.

“If it gets to be something we really have to look at and is going to be devastating, we have to keep our minds open to drastic reductions,” Flemister said. “I think the only thing we know for sure is there is going to be a shortfall. The job of remaining viable as a city is going to land in our laps and on our desks and it’s going to be tough.”

Councilman Greg Wheeler also thinks more layoffs are a very real possibility.

“They’ve been occurring already,” he said. “This is something that’s been happening for three or four years. I’m not sure yet what the mayor’s going to present as far as if it will be significant staff reductions or minor. I’m not sure what her proposal will be. If the budget reduction is large-scale, I’ve requested an organizational chart. With a  large-scale reduction there would have to be reorganization because core services still have to be met. Frankly, we need to know who’s going to do the work.”

When it comes to the mid-year budget adjustments, McDonald said that two big things to take into account are property taxes and sales taxes. The property taxes, which are collected by the county, come with couple of months worth of lag time and the sales tax figures are about a half-percent behind projections.

“We’re not doing great, we’re not doing bad,” McDonald said. “We’re kind of holding on budget is what it looks like to me.”

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