Proposed city budget feels good, but is it realistic?

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009

By Staff
Washington city officials are grappling with the recession as they prepare a budget for the coming fiscal year.
The good news — at least on the surface — is that the proposed city budget calls for no city employees to be laid off, no increase in the property-tax rate and no increases in fees for water, sewer, stormwater, solid waste or trash collection.
This likely will happen, despite a proposed general-fund budget that is $2.3 million less than the current general-fund budget. The general fund covers day-to-day operations of city government.
City Manager James C. Smith’s proposed $11.3 million budget does call for reduced hours at the George H. and Laura E. Brown Library and at the Hildred T. Moore Aquatic &Fitness Center.
The Washington City Council, which met to review the proposed budget Monday evening, has the final say on the budget and its related fees and tax rates.
The city, of course, is coping with the same economic nemesis as just about every other governmental jurisdiction in the country.
Declining tax revenue this fiscal year and expected declines in the next are forcing some tough decisions. Smith expects a reduction in the net operating budget of 10.8 percent over the next two years, he said.
Given the severity of declines in city revenue, we hope Smith’s implied optimism is realistic. We applaud his ability to forge a general-fund budget without projected layoffs or fee increases, though we’re skeptical that reducing hours at two facilities will be enough to offset substantial revenue declines.
By the time the City Council votes on the budget later this year, we urge council members and city staff to thoroughly review the document. Residents should know how reduced revenue will impact the city’s daily operation and how, in turn, it may affect the services it provides to city residents.
If changes in the proposed general-fund budget are warranted after careful consideration, so be it.
In our view, it’s better to make the really tough decisions now than be forced to make them later during a crisis.