WENATCHEE — The city is looking at trimming at least three positions from its budget next year as revenues languish and costs continue to climb.
“I’m trying to put together a 2014 budget with 2004 revenues,” Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said in an interview Monday. “If your costs keep going up and your revenues remain flat, every year you’re going to have to get rid of two or three more people.”
“That’s not what we’d like to do,” he said. “We’d like to start hiring back some of those positions we’ve already lost.”
City leaders have been struggling for several weeks to put together a balanced budget for 2014. Kuntz updated the City Council last week with what he called his second draft of the budget, which was still out of balance by $216,000 for the general fund and $275,000 for the separate street maintenance fund.
The draft $20 million general fund budget:
Eliminates the community center manager, who will be laid off at the end of the year.
Cuts a three-quarters time administrative position in the fire department, which will be vacated through retirement at the end of the year
Will not fill a police officer position that was vacated through resignation last year.
“I’m not excited to be reducing our police force,” Kuntz told the council. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. But they (officers) cost $110,000 a piece. I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do.”
The police department lost two officers who resigned in 2012, and recently hired one new officer to bring the number of commissioned officers to 36. The department had hoped to hire another officer in January.
Kuntz said it is necessary to not refill positions in the police and fire budgets because their new union contracts are still being negotiated and the city does not know how much more it will be paying for those employees once the contracts are settled.
The city currently has 163 employees.
The city will use some one-time revenues to pay for one-time expenses, Kuntz said. The city will transfer $788,000 from its water, sewer, wastewater and garbage reserve funds into the general fund after discovering an error in the way the utilities have been taxed over the last three years.
Of that, $350,000 will be used to buy a used or demo fire truck, $160,000 will be set aside in case the city loses a lawsuit with Chelan County PUD over utility taxes, and $133,000 will be used for an insurance payment relating to a 2011 audit finding against the city.
The state Auditor’s Office found that the city improperly tapped into a restricted insurance fund to help pay legal bills relating to the Town Toyota Center debt crisis. The city took nearly $1 million from the fund and has been paying it back.
Kuntz said the city had also planned to put $100,000 from the general fund into the fire truck replacement fund. On Thursday he told the council that the number would be reduced to $50,000. On Monday, he said it may be eliminated altogether to help balance the budget.
He said department managers submitted three pages of “asks” that will go mostly unfilled. That list of wants includes more technology equipment for police, more overtime pay for reserve officers, a city-wide mapping system for infrastructure like water pipes, valves and manhole covers, bumping the fire marshal position back to full time, and buying new park benches.
“They’re all reasonable asks,” Kuntz said Monday. “But it’s not going to happen.”
Kuntz said city leaders also need to figure out how to pay for all of the city’s street maintenance next year, including snowplowing, pothole repairs, paint striping and upkeep of traffic signals and street lights. Projected expenses are still $275,000 over projected revenues for 2014. Kuntz suggested to the council last week that they use revenues from the $20 car-tab fee to help fill the hole. Those revenues were used this year for a specific road project — chip sealing Miller Street.
In years past, the city has spent some of its property taxes on streets. But less and less went to streets in recent years as the city paid more toward the Town Toyota Center, Kuntz said Monday.
“We’ve been burning up reserves for the last three years to pay for street work,” he said. “Now there’s no more reserves.”
The City Council hopes to adopt the 2014 budget on Nov. 21. That may require even more cuts if more revenue is not devised before then, Kuntz said.