Goskagit

BURLINGTON — At its first finance workshop of 2020, the Burlington City Council began to plan responses Thursday to the city’s unsustainable budget.

City Administrator Greg Young’s four-year plan to stabilize the city’s finances, which was presented in December, calls for extensive discussion in 2020 on cutting costs and raising revenue, as the city prepares for the end of an era of strong sales tax revenue.

“We really need to do a lot of work this year to prepare for 2021,” Young said.

In order to balance the 2020 budget, the council approved four layoffs, saving $250,000, and decided not to contribute a planned $850,000 to the street maintenance fund. It also approved a property tax increase that will bring in $105,000.

Young said the city will need to find about $2 million over the next three years, either through cuts or new revenue, to restore employees and services.

Staff opened the meeting with a presentation on the impact the four layoffs will have on operations.

In the library, where one of the city’s two children’s librarians was let go, Assistant Library Director Janice Burwash said kids programs are on hold while staff figures out how to adjust.

“We felt really disheartened and really disappointed and discouraged,” Burwash said of the layoff, adding she feels as if the library will have to take a step back from the community.

A storytime program and other educational offerings will have to be held less frequently, and most of the library’s outreach programs will likely be cut, she said.

The city fire department laid off its fire and life safety instructor, who had been responsible for community education and safety programs, said Chief Rob Toth.

He said this position enabled the city to offer child car seat safety checks. Going forward, that program will have to be scaled back, and programs that deal with juvenile fire setter intervention and distracted driving prevention will be canceled.

Marv Pulst, Public Works director, said the custodian and maintenance supervisor positions he lost means there’s no one to fill in for staff when they take time off.

He had also planned for the maintenance department to prepare a comprehensive plan for the upkeep on all city facilities. Now, he said, that can’t happen.

“I really felt like that was an important thing for us to develop,” he said.

The council proceeded to discuss a plan for a vote on tax increases. Young said he will bring proposals for both a utility tax increase and a business and operations tax to the council before the end of February.

Votes failed late last year on a 1% increase to gas and electricity taxes and a new 6% tax on cable TV. Young said he plans to bring the same proposals back to the council.

The council also plans to have a full-day retreat soon to go over the budget line by line, and discuss a financial plan.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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