Everett’s 2021 budget looking ugly so far
Coronavirus’s economic impact hurt city’s tax revenue estimates
EVERETT — COVID-19’s economic impacts this year has put the city so far behind on next year’s budget that setting things straight will be difficult, if not painful, city leaders noted at a recent budget presentation.
Everett’s 2021 budget deficit on paper is $18 million, an unprecedented negative balance.
This spring, the city locked up some of its publicly visited facilities, reduced its workforce and halted most public events to head off a shortfall caused by COVID-19.
These cutbacks might not be reversed immediately, from a list of preliminary options presented July 22 to the City Council.
One list item says to convert the Carl Gipson Senior Center into an independently funded center to save $550,000. The center closed in March.
Mayor Cassie Franklin said the list has “awful choices in front of us,” and the list doesn’t outline everything being considered.
Franklin said she is discussing cutting back the size of Everett’s police force, and
looking for ways to save money in the Fire Department.
Another option is asking city labor unions to reopen their contracts to offer concessions, city executive director Lori Cummings said.
City executives emphasize the items in the list are only under consideration, and no decisions have been made. However, what was on the list presented last month outlines about $12 million of the $18 million in savings the city is trying to find.
The Forest Park Swim Center would remain closed in 2021, per the list. The Animal Farm and city flower program would not be revived. Staff cutbacks would not be refilled.
Restoring one item will require cutting elsewhere at a time when “more (cuts) will be needed,” Cummings said.
State law requires cities to produce and set a balanced budget by Dec. 31.
The city wants public feedback during this fall to discuss the budget.
City leaders don’t think there’s much wiggle room. The city has whittled away so many services and things in past years that one of the only things left is people, Franklin said.
The city’s finance office currently projects a drop of more than $8 million in tax revenue directly tied to COVID-19, with $5 million less sales tax revenue being the biggest factor.
The city’s budget writers have never had to overcome a deficit this large before, city finance director Susy Haugen said. Making things tougher, the situation is ever-changing based on the trajectory of the coronavirus.
Still on the agenda could be asking voters to approve a city parks tax to offset the cost to running parks, and to continue evaluating the viability of the city’s independent library system and Everett Transit versus merging them into the region’s larger systems, Sno-Isle Libraries and Community Transit, respectively.
The Fire Department is meeting with neighboring agencies to consider pairing up to form a Regional Fire Authority. Mukilteo’s elected leaders most recently said “no” to the idea.
The concepts are not brand-new: In February, Franklin said these steps will need to be explored to stave off the city’s structural deficit, where the cost to running the city is more expensive than its earnings.
The city’s longer-term structural deficit figures are still being recalculated.
Arts take it in the shorts
The city’s Cultural Arts Commission is calling for mercy and equity. The city’s arts budget is slated to shrink 60 percent.
In a letter, the commission asks for a $100,000 for a Cultural Arts Commission-led Budget; to increase city cultural arts grant funding by $10,000; and to bring back having a manager for cultural arts. The city’s Cultural Arts Manager is a key liasion for artists; the position was eliminated this spring.
“Cultural Arts — along with the Library, Park & Community Services — provide irreplaceable social infrastructure for our city,” commission member Elizabeth Person told the Tribune. “Perhaps not as visible as a new airport or improved roadway, but it is the social infrastructure on which our communities thrive. Take away these things, or slash our funding into insignificance, and soon we may lose the connectivity that makes up our community.”
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