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City is ahead of schedule on 2013 budget prep

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent says she and Financial Services Director Becky Hasart are “scrubbing and vetting” 2013 budget request proposals from the city’s various department directors.

It’s too early to tell if layoffs will be required to balance next year’s budget, but by the end of the week, Lent expects to have met with every department head in the city and have talked about their balance sheets and their expectations of revenues and expenditures for 2013.

During the 2012 budget preparation cycle last fall, the city faced a small rebellion of public works employees facing layoffs who teamed up with a few outspoken citizens to criticize “fat” salaries of city managers. The Bremerton City Council balked under the pressure, canceled the planned layoffs and reversed direction to raise taxes by more than $1 million. To keep 25 workers employed, the city raised taxes on utilities, parking and car registration.

An actual budget proposal is not scheduled for printing until October 8, about eight weeks before it needs to be balanced and approved by a city council vote. Meanwhile, Hasart is spending lead time constructing an actual budget document while the mayor prepares to deliver a budget message by the end of the month.

Lent said she has told her directors to be prepared for a three- to five-percent change in whatever their initial bottom line proposals come to.

So far, the city is slightly ahead of schedule when it comes to budget preparation. When asked whether or not that trend would continue, or if residents could expect another eleventh-hour scramble come December, as happened at the end of last year, Hasart said that next year’s budget could be adopted as early as December 5.

“Quite frankly, as with every city facing hard economic times, the budget process is more deliberative and involved than I’ve seen in my career and that’s a good thing,” she added.

Lent said that the city is bracing for increased health insurance costs next year as well as an increase in Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) expenses.

“State PERS will go up because back in the downturn they gave us a break,” Lent said. “Now, they want municipalities and counties to catch up. Their pension program isn’t strong enough and they need us to put some reserve money in there.”

Lent said she labored for many long hours over last year’s budget and expects this year will not be any different.

“I took a long, hard look at middle management and supervisory areas where we could do without and still get the job done,” she said. “I anticipate doing the same thing this year.”

Hasart and other department directors are set to meet with the city council for three, three-hour “dinner meeting” workshops October 22, 24 and 29. A public hearing on revenue sources, property taxes, rates and fees, utility rates and ordinances for each of them is set for November 7. An optional budget summary meeting is slated for November 28 and a public hearing and adoption of the budget is set for Dec. 5.


 

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