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Council objects to public program cuts in Everett budget

EVERETT — The City Council last week objected to some of what’s being lost in the push for a balanced 2019 budget.
On paper, the budget is now balanced, overcoming a $13 million deficit through cuts and adjustments. Cuts that take away public activities, such as ending the petting zoo at Forest Park, though, has council concerned that these could lead to Everett feeling less vibrant to visit or live in.
Each city department was mandated to find budget savings to meet Mayor Cassie Franklin’s directive to reverse the built-in deficit it currently costs to run the city. The budget Franklin endorsed includes $6 million in permanent cuts toward that goal.
Proposed changes would introduce a fee to use the senior center, trim the city’s workforce and end the Saturday night city summer concert program.
The Jetty Island ferry program was a conversation point. It will now only happen if it secures city tourism grant funding to cover $125,000 of its costs, which is over half its $214,000 operating cost. Its fate would be in the hands of a volunteer committee that designates hotel and motel tax revenue for tourism programs, the Lodging and Tax Advisory Committee, which is not obligated to fund the program.
On its own, the program is not financially feasible, parks director Lori Cummings said. A nominal admission fee would end up costing more in administration than it would bring in, city accountants determined.
The staff determined to “only continue Jetty Island if it gets grants because it is so expensive,” Franklin told the council.
The Saturday night summer concert series was the least attended of three series, city cultural arts manager Carol Thomas said. It may be revived if it can get a sponsor to bankroll it, Thomas said. The city also expects to save money in arts spending through its renegotiated management contract with The Village Theatre.
The senior center fee would be $30 for a year. The city believes 720 members are open to paying the fee, which would bring in $21,600 a year. It doesn’t tally how many people regularly use the center, a city spokeswoman said. It came up with the prices by comparing other senior centers that charge.
The Senior Center Advisory Board grumbled about the fee, the board’s council liaison Brenda Stonecipher reported.
Meanwhile, the Library Board is concerned about a reduction to its budget for acquiring materials, that board’s council liaison Judy Tuohy reported.
The parks department is firm that the petting zoo must end, an assistant parks manager told the council. The choice was between cutting the animal farm or cutting staff, and people won out.
Council President Paul Roberts gave his concerns eloquently. He, like his peers, is concerned if budget reductions remove events that have a broad reach in the community. “I don’t want to lose the concept of the value” the programs have while cutting costs, he said.
One flashpoint was when Franklin defended that the top-level administration is reducing its size, to which council members shot back that the Mayor’s Office is dispersing directors into other departments with little to no net savings in the whole budget.
The budget is still a working document. For example, half of the city’s planned contribution to the police and fire pension fund — $1.5 million — has been restored in the budget after finding savings elsewhere.
In other changes, Public Health and Safety Director Hil Kaman, whose dedicated job the past two years has been to oversee the city’s Safe Streets initiative, will be splitting his time working in the prosecutor’s office, where his city career originated.
A separate department restructure would place a director to manage city facilities and also Everett Transit, which already has its own director. Two jobs at Everett Transit not yet identified would be cut, and the facilities director position would be eliminated.
More work is to be done, Franklin said: during 2019, the city will seek efficiencies by department, beginning with Everett Transit in January and then the Fire Department, with looks into parks and library system in the summer.

Past coverage on this topic:

Mayor proposes cuts, fees to solve budget - Sept. 12, 2018


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