Citizen survey guides City of Kirkland's proposed budget
By RAECHEL DAWSON
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
October 31, 2012 · Updated 2:41 PM
City staff met with the Kirkland Council Oct. 25 to propose the upcoming biennial budget, which is estimated to reach approximately $540.4 million if the council approves.
“This is not a perfect budget but it’s from a perfect team with a perfect effort,” said City Manager Kurt Triplett at the study session. “(There’s) a theme of being conservative and fiscally sound, not taking a lot of risk.”
The proposed budget calls for a 13.5 percent increase of funds, which spans over four years since the enactment of the 2011-2012 budget.
Director of Finance and Administration Tracey Dunlap said the increase is the result of many factors, but fully funding government services in the new annexed neighborhoods (Juanita, Finn Hill and Kingsgate) of 31,000 people and the construction of the new Public Safety Building are among the most prominent reasons.
“Right now, the 2013-2014 (budget) reflects two full years of services to the new city boundaries,” said Dunlap.
As a result of annexation, roughly $16 million in revenue was added on the base of $80 million toward the general fund - a 20 percent increase. The proposed budget indicates a 6.6 percent increase in the general fund.
Another major expenditure will be the construction of the new Public Safety Building, which will cost roughly $27 million and will be located at 11831 120th Ave. N.E. (where the old Costco building used to be).
“It’s a huge investment in public safety,” Triplett said. He explained that to save around $800,000, the city sent inmates to less expensive jails but overall transportation and travel still ended up costing a substantial amount. The city’s current jail holds 12 inmates, despite the 55 people that should be jailed daily, said Triplett.
The initial expected budget shortfall of $7.7 million was projected in March and was reduced by $2.4 million in September due to a 9.4 percent increase in consumer spending, more development, business and a colder spring, which prompted residents to purchase more gas and electricity to heat their homes, according to city documents.
And yet, $5.3 million is still on the table but this proposed budget fills it.
When the new area was annexed in June 2011, the city budgeted for more than 100 additional positions to serve the three neighborhoods. Twenty-five of those positions were left unfilled due to the “looming shortfall.”
To fund the remaining shortfall, $1.9 million and 6.5 vacant full-time employees were cut from public safety services in the annexed area.
“What we did was we budgeted more officers than needed,” Triplett said. “But we didn’t fill those positions. It was all a guess on annexation.”
Three of the 6.5 positions were police officers and administration and 3.5 were positions in the court.
Additionally, the budget cuts $1.6 million and 5.6 vacant full-time positions and 1.5 filled full-time positions.
“(There will be cuts to) only two positions that have had real people in them, which is always difficult because like any organization, we’re like a family. But of the two positions, we are thinking there will be opportunities where those people will have different jobs if the levies pass,” Triplett said.
The city plans on hiring 10.25 full-time positions if the property tax levies, Proposition 1 and 2, pass. If they don’t, approximately 536 positions will remain.
“I think folks may get the impression that somehow there’s been a dramatic increase in city staff and I just wanted to let people know that’s not happening,” Triplett said.
The Green Kirkland Partnership, which utilizes volunteers, also has the opportunity to get some funding if the parks levy passes. And the roads levy would address citizens’ concerns for street maintenance - a high concern based on a community survey.
Triplett and Dunlap used a 2012 community survey based off of last year’s budget to prioritize government spending. A statistical sample of 500 people took the survey, said Triplett.
It revealed the community’s thoughts about services that are low performing but were important among the community. These include: maintaining streets, emergency preparedness, traffic flow, attracting and keeping businesses and zoning and other land use. The imperative programs total 12.6 percent ($20 million) of the surveyed items.
“This year’s budget is the first time we’ve really tried to integrate the survey in the budget. It’s always been a very good correlation but this is the first time I’ve used it as a decision-making tool,” Triplett said.
And after all is said and done - even with the passing of Proposition 1 and 2 - Kirkland’s “Price of Government” is still within the low range for citizen comfort.
Redmond Mayor John Marchione looks at Redmond’s budget by measuring the amount of revenue citizens pay through taxes and other means, divided by the average income per capita for the city. Triplett says a comfortable amount should be in the 5 or 6 percent range, which is what many surrounding cities are at. But when Triplett did the equation for Kirkland, he discovered the city is at 3 percent.
“What that tells us is that we’re pretty lean and mean,” Triplett said. “Citizens might be willing to invest more in government.”
However, the levies barely put a “notch” in that percentage, he says.
“The downside is, it means you’re spending less on services than your neighbors,” said Triplett. “There is not as much invested in parks and police intervention.”
Nonetheless, Proposition 1 would require the average Kirkland resident to pay $70.58 and Proposition 2 would require an annual tax of $55.36 for a home worth $346,000. If passed, Proposition 1 is expected to bring in $3 million annually; Proposition 2 would raise $2.35 million.
For more information on the proposed budget or to participate in the budget process, visit the next study session at 6 p.m. on Nov. 7 or contact the Kirkland Finance Department at 425-587-3100.Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Raechel Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-822-9166 X5052.