Published 3:13 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

By Staff
Cobbling a budget is not an easy task during the best of economic times, but it can become down right scary during a recession.
Just ask any level of government — local, state and federal — if that is the case and listen to what they have to say. This spring, in particular, those governments have faced plenty of scary moments as they wrestle with a lousy economy, declines in revenues and increases in unemployment rates.
On Monday, Washington’s City Council is expected to adopt a budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, a budget that does not raise the property-tax rate or fees for water, sewer, trash collection and stormwater management. It does not lay off city employees nor does it reduce their wages. It does reduce hours at some city facilities such as Brown Library and Hildred T. Moore Aquatic and Fitness Center.
Mayor Judy Meier Jennette, the City Council and city staff, as they have done in recent years, have paid close attention to the budget-making process this year. Faced with a significant decline in revenues and increases in expenses, they have looked for ways to increase revenues and lower expenses.
They also have been dealing with unknowns. What’s the economy going to be like in the next three months, six months and year? What happens to the city’s financial reserves if a major hurricane strikes the area?
To be sure, the proposed budget, which if approved Monday would take effect July 1, would raise some fees. Like businesses, the city continues to find that the cost of doing business — providing services to city taxpayers and residents — continues to increase. To be sure, the mayor and council know that any budget they approve will not please everyone.
The council and mayor should expect taxpayers and residents to hold them accountable when it comes to how the city raises its revenues and spends that money. Taxpayers and residents should demand that accountability.
Overall, it appears they are getting that accountability. Their attendance at a budget work session or two this spring would have provided them evidence of that. This year’s budget process was anything but a rubber-stamp process.
However, it’s not the council that has final say over how the city spends taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers have that say, especially this November when they elect council members and a mayor.
That’s accountability.