Everett sheds programs to try to keep head above water
Tribune staff photo
Mayor Cassie Franklin during her 2020 Budget Address on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
EVERETT — No access to the senior center. No access to the municipal pool. No Fourth of July parade. No Animal Farm.
City administrators emphasized they had to swiftly cut the budget to stop financial losses due to the coronavirus. Seventeen employees are being laid off, and 59 others are taking a severance.
COVID-19 has upturned government budgets because everyday commerce dwindled, and that zapped sales tax revenue. In Everett, the virus sucked an estimated $14 million out of this year’s revenue picture, with a $6 million loss clouding next year.
Last week, the City Council approved a $3.4 million reduction package that appeared to touch on every city function. Council members seemed resigned to agree, voting 7-0, but before they did, there was a 2-5 minority vote to wait a week on the cuts to give the public time for input.
“We’re not asking our residents to accept these, but these are absolutely necessary to help the financial health of the city,” said Lori Cummings, the city’s executive director for parks.
The Carl Gipson Senior Center would be one of the last to reopen, Cummings said. Unless there’s a miracle, it’s scheduled to be closed “at least through 2021.”
Trips to Jetty Island will operate as long as it is awarded funding from the city’s grantmaking committee that handles city hotel and motel tax income.
City arts programs were largely wiped off the board: There will be no city-led summer music concerts, and there won’t be public typewriters or pianos put downtown. There will not be public flower plantings later this spring. There will be no city-run Fourth of July parade.
City library hours are likely to be cut.
The city’s Forest Park Swim Center would remain closed through 2021. Cummings noted the Everett Y’s pool will be available to residents under an existing city arrangement with the Y.
City fitness classes, sports leagues and youth camps are canceled.
The City Clerk’s office will have its public counter closed one day a week. People can still reach the clerk’s office by phone and email.
Other losses are:
• The city’s neighborhoods coordinator position was cut.
• The city’s municipal arts manager position was cut.
• A city communications officer was cut.
• Sidewalk maintenance will be reduced.
• Arts grants are temporarily halted.
Before coronavirus restrictions restricted businesses, the city had a $13 million deficit to figure out by 2021. It dealt with similar deficits in prior years by tightening itself further.
“The savings in 2021 will be significant” by having less workforce and programs, Franklin said. It is “a significant reduction we will need to weather this crisis.”
In past years, council members fought to save some of these same programs during budget talks. Saving the Animal Farm was a battleground.
Sadness marked last week’s conversation.
“These cuts will be felt deeply by everyone. We’re losing very valuable members of the city team,” Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said last week, adding that “we’ll lose a lot of institutional knowledge, and that is very sad.”
The unsettled financial picture will linger in the 2021 budget, Deputy Mayor Nick Harper said.
Council President Judy Tuohy said the city’s pre-existing structural deficit made for a “double whammy” to the city’s budget.
“We must all be dedicated to bringing these (programs) back to the community ... In the 2021 budget (talks), I would like to look at each and every one of these and see if we can reinstate some of these programs,” Tuohy said.
Fifty-nine employees accepted voluntary severance packages from the city. A further 17 who didn’t, or were ineligible for severance, are being laid off.
The senior center’s staff is four people who lost their jobs; it costs $531,000 to run a year.
The Parks Department runs on a $13.9 million budget. This package cut about $1.2 million in programs from its budget.
Previous to introducing this package, the mayor’s office removed three of the city’s five executive directors as a budget cut. Franklin called these cuts painful earlier this month.
The changes may temporarily derail some city plans, such as to make downtown a certified Creative Arts District. Another effect is that the key official guiding the city through its analysis on reshaping Everett Transit is among the people no longer with the city.
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