WENATCHEE — With the Town Toyota Center debt crisis resolved, the City Council on Thursday approved its 2013 budget with no drama.
“Frankly, there are a lot fewer unknowns than we’ve had the last three years,” Councilman Tony Veeder said. “We’d pass a budget and a month later it would change.”
Next year’s general fund budget, which pays for police, fire, planning and engineering, parks, and other services, is $20.6 million — about $1.4 million less than the adopted 2012 budget.
Thursday’s approval came earlier than the budget is typically adopted. By law, the council must hold a public hearing on the budget by Dec. 1, but the council usually extends the hearing and approves the budget closer to the end of December.
Last year, the council approved a budget not knowing what its actual costs relating to the arena for legal fees and interest payments on its debt would be. There was much speculation that firefighters and police would have to be laid off, a fire station closed, the pool and music closed and recreation program eliminated. Much of that didn’t happen, but the city did make mid-year budget cuts that eliminated positions in the police and fire departments and the museum because of lower-than-expected revenues and greater costs.
Veeder said this year’s budget planning went smoother because the council formed a budget committee that worked with department heads and the finance department to put the budget together. They’ve been working on it since August.
In past years, the mayor prepared the budget and presented it to the council. This year, Mayor Frank Kuntz, who took office in January, chose to share that responsibility.
“When (Mayor) Dennis (Johnson) prepared the budget, a lot of the fighting didn’t start until that first meeting when we got it,” Veeder said.
Next year’s budget includes the hiring of a new accounting supervisor, a planning grant administrator, a construction projects engineer and three part-time parks employees.
It also includes a 3.2-percent raise for police officers, part of their union bargaining agreement.
Newly appointed Councilman Keith Huffaker asked questions about the need for many of the new hires, but was satisfied with the reasons given by department heads.
The city will also pay a bigger subsidy for the cemetery next year and the general fund will subsidize the Community Center.
Dan Frazier, director of public works operations, said revenues at the cemetery continue to decline, “but we still have 19,000 people interred there and the obligation to take care of them.”
Councilman Mark Kulaas expressed concern that the city’s general fund reserve is just under 10 percent while the council adopted a goal of 15 percent.
“My goal, by time I’m done with my term, is that we’ll be at that 14-15 percent number,” Kuntz said. “We’ll get there. It’ll just take baby steps.”
Council members seemed happy with the budget overall.
“It’s not rosy, but we’re on the right track,” Councilwoman Linda Herald said.
“It’s certainly better than we were last year at this time,” Kuntz said.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152