Nora Mitchell

Nora Mitchell

Port Townsend looks to cut expenses to balance budget

Draft proposal to be discussed Nov. 4

PORT TOWNSEND — City department heads seek to cut more than $100,000 in expenses in the next three weeks so as to present a balanced 2020 budget.

Interim City Manager Nora Mitchell said Monday night the total is at least $120,000 with several methods under consideration before a proposed budget is presented Nov. 4.

“It’s more like $140,000 if we want to be breaking even in our funds, as our policy recommends,” Mitchell told council members.

The workshop featured information on updates to the city’s financial policies and both long-term and short-term capital financing options.

City engineer David Peterson also presented a review of the six-year capital improvement plan, with highlights that included improvements on Howard Street and the design of Seventh Street from Rainier Street to Discovery Road.

A two-way bicycle path also is included on Discovery Road from Rainier Street to Sheridan Street, Peterson said.

The proposed budget has taken into account more than $700,000 in requests from department heads, Mitchell said, but most won’t be included.

“Realistically, only about $20,000 to $30,000 will get funding,” she said.

One area Mitchell has been looking to cut is the council’s reserve fund, which would save about $98,000 — about 1 percent of general fund operating revenues, she said.

Another area could involve staff positions, but council members said other cuts should occur before jobs and wage increases.

“Cutting staff should be the last thing,” council member Bob Gray said.

Mitchell said the city’s general union and police union have a scheduled cost-of-living increase, and they have budgeted the same percentage for non-union employees.

“We’ve tried to match that for the non-represented employees, but we don’t have an obligation to do that,” Mitchell said.

Council member Pam Adams said those cuts should be viewed last.

“I would hate to be removing staff positions or not giving cost-of-living adjustments,” she said. “I’d be moving those to the bottom.”

Mayor Deborah Stinson added that the city has an open engineer position at the moment, but the amount of available work may not require the position next year.

“Our budget reflects not filling that position,” Mitchell said.

Other choices might include limiting hours at the Mountain View Pool, although that option hasn’t been thoroughly vetted, Mitchell said.

Among the more difficult items the city would like to fund is another police officer, which would be a 16th position within the department, Mitchell said.

“That’s something that was requested along with additional police vehicles,” she said. “We bought three this year, and they’re still pending delivery. We have an aging fleet, and we need to come up with a plan to continue replacing those.”

The city could eliminate proposed fund requests that don’t have a contractual commitment, or it could require across-the-board reductions from the general fund and community services, Mitchell said.

She also said the council could approve a 22 percent tax rate on the solid waste utility, which would benefit the general, community services and street funds.

“That would feel awkward because we just presented this reduction earlier in the year,” council member David Faber said.

Stinson suggested it may be a one-time fix with an opportunity to pull it back in 2021.

That’s when the city could choose to levy one-third of the property tax funds that had been paying for fire service prior to annexation into East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) service territory earlier this year.

The city will not collect the property tax funds in 2020 that would have been redirected to the fire district because city residents will be levied directly by EJFR for the first time.

The city will have an option to restore that property tax incrementally, one-third at a time from 2021-23, and allocate those funds to pay for projects specified with public input, such as residential street repair.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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