Port Townsend City Council approves 2013 budget with less than ‘clear summary’

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A divided City Council has approved a $30,276,265 budget, though objections were raised about the clarity of the presentation to the public.

“The budget is the most common tool used to discuss fiscal planning, and it should be presented in a format that is understandable and useful to the public,” said Councilman Bob Gray, who is finishing his first year on the council.

“I don’t see how we can ask the public to understand our priorities when we don’t provide them with a clear summary.”

The budget approved Monday included $6,496,783 in the general fund, $11,599,018 in the capital fund and $12,180,464 in other funds.

It passed 4-2 with Mayor David King and council members Mark Welch, Catharine Robinson and Deborah Stinson in favor and Gray and Deputy Mayor Kris Nelson opposed.

Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval was not present.

“The council talked about making the process clearer last year, but it didn’t happen,” Gray said.

“It is presented with 52 items on each page on our website, and a lot of people in town don’t have computers or access to the Internet, so they don’t understand where the money is going.”

Gray said he is one of those who doesn’t really understand the budget.

Gray said the Jefferson Transit board, on which he also serves, takes time during each meeting to discuss up-to-the-minute budget issues, how much has been spent each month and what is on tap for the next month.

Gray would like to see the City Council institute a similar process.

“I think a regular summary by the city manager would go a long way to clarify whether we have enough funds,” Gray said.

While voting in favor of budget ratification, King said, “The budget could be a lot more user-friendly.

“I am satisfied with the accuracy of the budget but not its presentation.”

City Manager David Timmons said any change in the budget process would need to come from the council.

“We followed the same process as in the last several years, so any changes will have to be decided upon early on,” Timmons said.

“[Gray] was upset that we didn’t provide a narrative, but how do you narrate something that is still in progress?” Timmon added, saying, “Budget narratives usually follow what has already been put into place.”

Timmons said the budget showed that the city is stable.

“We’ve met our objectives and put in place a capital plan that will be in place for the next couple of years,” he said.

The city still needs to find a funding source for the $9.9 million water-filtration facility designed to remove cryptosporidium, a bacteria that causes digestive problems.

Construction of the new facility must be completed by 2015, with much of the cost to be made up through utility rates, according to King, though there is a $3 million low-interest loan that is available to defray some of the costs.

Sometime in 2013, the council is expected to decide if it will ask voters to approve levies in four critical areas: the creation of a transportation benefit district, creation of a metropolitan parks district, funding for library renovation and annexation of the city into East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.

“The city is stable,” King said.

“We are hopeful that we will see a better economy in the coming years.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 18. 2012 6:12PM
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