At its Nov. 12 regular meeting, the Kenmore City Council unanimously approved a charter for a city financial sustainability task force (CFSPTF).
“I would call financial sustainability in Washington cities a ‘wicked’ problem,” contracted project manager Torie Brazitis said at the beginning of the meeting. “These are problems that don’t have an easy answer. They’re problems that don’t lend themselves well to looking at them in a binary fashion…It’s more about what is important to the community and what is expressed through a solution.”
Interest in creating a financial sustainability plan and a CFSPTF began this year as a result of city concerns over operating revenues. Currently, the city of Kenmore is en route to a structural deficit in its operating budget due to unfunded state and federal mandates, state-sanctioned limits on property tax accruement, plateauing growth in revenues and other problems. Operating revenues, because of these obstacles, are as a result unable to keep up with city business costs.
To address its financial concerns, the Kenmore City Council approved a two-phase process at its Oct. 7 meeting. The process culminates in a financial sustainability plan, which is currently scheduled for final approval by council in June 2020. The plan aims to resolve the budget gap for the 2021-26 financial period while also being attentive to community needs.
In Phase 1 of the plan — which will continue for the remainder of 2019 — city staff is gathering and analyzing data around community priorities. They are also looking at financial projections to figure out exactly how large the deficit for Kenmore is going to be. Once this information has been conclusively gathered, it is on track to be presented to the council at its January 2020 retreat. After the council gives staff feedback and direction on where to go next, Phase 2 will begin.
“The legitimacy of data is very important to this project,” Brazitis said.
Once Phase 2 commences, Kenmore will host community conversations throughout spring 2020 to share what’s been learned to the public to better evaluate options. The conclusion of Phase 2 will result in a report from the city manager. The report will then be presented to council, who, after looking at recommended actions, will start deliberating the 2021-22 budget. The June 2020 deadline was chosen in the first place to coincide with these plans.
To complement the two-pronged approach, the city recently approved the creation of a task force to be made up of community members who have an understanding of the public’s interests while also showing an interest in familiarizing themselves with Kenmore’s financial statuses. Major responsibilities for the task force include proposing ideas to potentially resolve the city’s structural deficit and effectively breaking down and summarizing public feedback.
The charter passed at the Nov. 12 meeting defines the purpose of the group. It also lays out its timeline, membership criteria and other key details. Brazitis said that while drafting the charter, it was important that the role of the task force was clear.
“If you just say the word task force, everyone has a different idea of what that means,” she said. “What I’d like you to think of is all the other groups in this process and what their role is and then how we’ve created the task force backward from that.”
Brazitis noted that it was also important to emphasize that throughout the process, council should be considered the decision-maker, with the task force acting as an advisory group.
Community members interested in serving in the group have until Dec. 2 to send a letter of interest to the city. The city manager will select members in January 2020.
The council was receptive to the update and the charter, though the majority of members expressed an interest in including further opportunities for public comment as part of the charter.
Deputy Mayor Nigel Herbig said he would like to see task force meetings streamed as a way to ensure that the information is accessible.
“I just think making this as transparent as possible for folks who are at home cooking dinner — if they’re so interested to tune in and listen to talks about financial sustainability — that opportunity should be available to them,” Herbig said.
City clerk Kelly Chelin, who was in attendance at the meeting, said it would be feasible to make this a reality.
For the full conversation around the charter, go the Nov. 6 city council meeting recording at bit.ly/350GA41. For more information about the charter and the background of the financial sustainability plan, go to the meeting agenda item at bit.ly/33Rak3i.