Council debates city’s budget

Opposition regarding Kent’s 2006 budget proposal – which creates a nearly $2 million deficit – prompted City Council to propose a financial review board.

The board will evaluate options before City Council reaches a final decision regarding the budget.

Council agreed to the review board following last week’s first reading of the 2006 budget proposed by City Manager Dave Ruller and Finance Director Barb Rissland.

The $2 million would come from the city’s one-time reserve savings, but those funds won’t last beyond 2008 if fundamental changes aren’t made, Ruller stated in his 2006 Budget Message.

“Two million (dollars) is too big a gap,” Ruller said. “You’re not going to find $2 million. That would be like laying off a third of the workforce.”

Rissland said the current budget is meant to maintain the level of services the city provides citizens.

“We look at what we’ve spent historically,” she said. “Any anticipated price increases, and we build a current operating budget. Where we’re running into problems is where our revenue sources are not growing as fast as our expenditures.”

Rissland gave an overview of the proposed budget at the Nov. 9 council committee meeting, which led to a lengthy debate among council members over the cause of the city’s debt and how it should be handled.

Councilman Ed Bargerstock, who called the budget “insane” at last week’s council meeting, voted against the budget for a second time. Councilwomen Beth Oswitch and Carrie Gavriloff also opposed the budget.

Oswitch called the budget issue irresponsible and faulted current and past city councils.

“We’ve known for a long time that we’ve had a problem, and it never seems to get past the ‘Hey, we have a problem’ phase,” Oswitch said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Kent residents have given feedback that council should quit spending money frivolously, she said.

“We’ve known for the past couple of years that income has not matched our expenses,” Oswitch said. “We at least owe it to the residents to discuss it (the budget), and we haven’t.”

There will be no money in a couple of years if council continues to spend the way it has in the past, which means residents will be asked for a future tax increase, she said.

Ruller said the city has made an effort to cut costs – and has cut about $1.5 million out of a $35 million budget – but inflation prevents the cuts from having a profound benefit.

Council-at-large William Schultz said the problem isn’t the budget itself but rather is the result of costs increasing more than revenues are increasing.

The Council has attempted to address the budget issue for the past seven years by reducing staff, he said. Larger employers for Kent, including manufacturers and auto dealers, also are not offering as many jobs as before, Schultz said.

The budget issue prompted Schultz to motion to draft the financial review board.

Ruller will select five financial professionals to sit on the financial review board, with Council members having the final decision.

The city manager agreed to the committee’s formation, saying he believes it is important for the community to understand the problem and have a voice. He added that the review board is another way to provide community input for the process.

The proposal of the review board seemed to please those opposed to the 2006 budget.

Oswitch said she believes the review board is an avenue to start fixing the problem.

Coming up with longer-term solutions is another preventative, Rissland said.

She suggested bringing in new businesses and jobs, looking at additional taxes and coming up with alternative funding.

“Council has the ability to modify (the budget) or accept it,” Rissland said. “At that point in time, we pass an appropriation ordinance, which is our legal authority to spend, and we’ll be doing that toward the end of this month.”

If approved, the new budget will be effective Jan. 1, 2006.

Public affairs reporter Jean-Marie Papoi contributed to this article.

Contact public affairs reporter Kristin Lindsey at [email protected]. Contact public affairs reporter Katie Phillips at [email protected].