The Bothell City Council held a special meeting Oct. 25 to take a closer look at the city’s 2017-18 biennial budget, prepared by city staff under the leadership of Interim City Manager Bob Jean.
The budget was prepared based on feedback both from the Bothell Community Conversations focus groups earlier this year and a road map generated through conversations between councilmembers and city staff.
The total proposed budget for 2017-18 is just over $195 million. From that, $87.4 million will be spent on personnel, $51.7 million on capital costs, $39.8 million on maintenance and operations, and $16.3 million on debt and interest.
Fire, information services
Two areas of most interest to the council at the Oct. 25 meeting were the fire department and information services (IS).
No cuts were made in the fire department’s staffing, but two firefighters’ duties were changed to put the person now doing building inspections out in the field to replace a retired position, and the firefighter now responsible for equipment and facilities alone will cover both those duties and the building inspection duties.
Fire Chief Bob Van Horne did this after being instructed to cut $500,000 from his proposed 2017-18 budget, and he told the city council he thought this reorganization might mean the department won’t be able to get to all of the building inspections and adequately address the department’s equipment and facility needs.
“I can’t promise that we’re going to complete everything in ‘17 and ‘18 that we’re doing today,” Van Horne said.
Some city councilmembers questioned the logic of being so tight with the fire department’s budget and generous in other areas, such as information systems.
“I can’t see how we can cut $500,000 where we should be adding $500,000 or $1 million,” Councilmember Del Spivey said. “It directly affects the people we’re supposed to be protecting and the safety of the firefighters.”
In the proposed 2017-18 budget, the information systems staff will increase from 12 to 14 to accommodate the city’s crumbling technology infrastructure. Jean, other city employees and other city councilmembers defended the high spending for IS, saying it was essential to keep city services, including fire and police, up to date.
IS Manager Joe Sherman told the council there was degradation across the city’s information and communication systems, adding they purposely kept the budget tight during the recession but it’s now time for some crucial upgrades. He called IS the “invisible infrastructure,” adding it was essential for the city to have updated systems to operate in the 21st century economy.
“I’m in full support of updating our technology,” Mayor Andy Rheaume said. “You’re not asking for things you don’t need.”
In 2017, Bothell is going to study its fire department to get a full idea of all of its capabilities and needs, and Deputy Mayor Davina Duerr indicated the council should wait to see what the results of that study are before making any changes to the department’s budget. Jean said he did do a staffing efficency study before preparing the budget and thought the rearrangement of job duties would be the best course for the fire department.
While Jean defended the 2017-18 budget, saying not everything’s “popular,” he did admit it did not deal with the long-term needs of city departments including fire, police and parks. He suggested long-term planning for those departments should be one of the highest priorities of the new city manager.
The city council will continue to discuss the biennial budget at its Nov. 8 meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at city hall.
Correction: This story initially indicated the IS department was going from seven to 14 employees in the 2017-18 biennium. The IS staff had seven employees in 2007 and will go from 12 to 14 in the proposed biennial budget.