The Aberdeen City Council approved a $13.34 million budget Wednesday night, deciding to leave Mayor Bill Simpson’s original proposal intact after some criticized it two weeks ago as in need of cost cuts. The spending plan dives into reserves and includes no layoffs.
Despite protests from several council members that the budget was not sustainable, it was approved on a 10-2 vote.
Council members Tim Alstrom and Alice Phelps voted against the budget. Other council members had been critical of the budget in the past few weeks, but ultimately voted for it.
The budget includes a 3 percent raise for most city employees and 2.7 percent raises for police officers and firefighters.
The city’s health insurance premiums are expected to increase by 6 percent, but could be reduced by 2 percent if the city qualifies for a “wellness” discount. The city’s pension retirement contribution rates are expected to go up 24 percent.
Revenue coming in is expected to be about $12.7 million. That means the city would have to spend about $652,000 of its reserves to balance the spending plan, leaving about $3.6 million in reserves at the end of next year. The city is expected to spend down reserves this year by about $568,000.
Councilman John Smith said he’s not happy that the city is spending down reserves so heavily again.
“We’re going to be a bit more proactive next year to make sure it doesn’t have to be that way again,” Smith said.
Members of the city’s Finance Committee had been exploring instituting a franchise fee on garbage services or extending the city’s utility tax on cable services, but nether of those options were brought to the council floor on Wednesday.
The city did approve utility rate hikes for water, sewer, storm, garbage and emergency medical services Wednesday night. On the average $104.34 utility bill, it would mean a $10.66 increase.
Each rate hike required a separate vote. The garbage and emergency medical services portion passed unanimously, however, Councilwoman Phelps voted against the rate hikes for water, sewer and stormwater.
Councilman Jeff Cook said he’s not happy about the use of reserves either, but didn’t see a realistic option to change the mayor’s budget weeks before the budget was set to be approved.
“For me, this was a big learning curve and I learned a lot about the process and think maybe we can do better next time,” he said.
The mayor’s budget continues to fund the Grays Harbor Council of Governments by $25,000 and pays $12,000 for a membership to Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. Simpson said the memberships are important so that the city contributes to a “regional focus for services in our area.”
Councilman Alstrom had proposed a $200,000 cut to the mayor’s budget two weeks ago, but couldn’t find the support.
Alstrom said he decided not to bring the issue up again because he thought he’d already made his point, calling the current budget unsustainable.
“This is not a very good budget,” Alstrom said, noting that he wants to help figure out a better way to manage the city’s finances many months before the 2014 budget comes into play.
Mayor Simpson said he welcomes the help in crafting future budgets. For his part, Simpson said he’s hoping that a few upcoming retirements can help reduce the city’s expenses and he’s banking on a few building projects to add extra unbudgeted revenue into the city’s coffers, including the planned Walmart expansion, a new building at Grays Harbor College and more housing starts.