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Bob Scales: Budget, hiring new manager are critical issues
During the political campaign season, candidates rarely talk about the difficult and controversial decisions that they will have to make as elected officials. Campaign slogans focus on the general character traits of candidates rather than their specific plans for elected office.
I would like to take a moment to move beyond the well-intentioned platitudes of the campaigns and tell you how I would handle some specific issues that the city is facing right now.
Hiring a new city manager
After spending just four months on the job, the city manager resigned. The council members invited a Bellevue consultant to advise them on how to select an interim city manager. The consultant proposed that the city hire his firm to find another consultant who would act as interim manager. After a short discussion the council voted unanimously to negotiate a contract with the consultant.
There was no competitive bidding process for this contract nor was the community given any notice or opportunity to comment. When the voters approved the council-manager government, no one could have imagined that the council would turn over control of the city to a consultant from Bellevue.
I believe the interim manager should be a city employee and not an outside consultant. The manager must be accountable to the council and to the community. The council should use city staff to conduct the search rather than pay a large commission to a consultant. The community should have an opportunity to participate in the search process.
The outgoing city manager recently presented his proposed budget to the council. This budget fails to reduce operating expenses, increases staffing levels, eliminates the contingency fund and contains a reckless capital spending program – including an $8 million police-court facility. Nearly one-quarter of the $50 million budget is funded by debt. The city will pay $3 million for outside consultants, but will not provide any basic road maintenance unless the voters agree to raise their own taxes to pay for it.
The 2010 budget is a recipe for disaster and will leave the next council with a financial house of cards. It’s time for the council to take a long- term view of the budget with the goal of sustainability rather than focusing on instant gratification. If I return to the council I will immediately propose several measures to rescue the city’s finances.
Cancel the new police-court facility: Our municipal court handles mostly traffic and parking tickets and conducts only one or two jury trials a year. The city should examine consolidating its court with Poulsbo’s court, which could save on rental costs and staff. The city should upgrade the existing police facility rather than build a new one.
Reduce management positions: The city is a very top heavy organization with one manager for every three or four employees. Recent layoffs have focused on union staff rather than management. The city should cut at least seven management positions saving more than $1 million a year. These savings should be used to eliminate the need for unpaid furloughs and to restore service hours at City Hall.
Cut the consultant budget by $2 million: The city has traditionally relied on outside consultants rather than hiring qualified staff that can provide basic municipal services. The city must reduce its dependence on high-priced consultants and focus instead on staff training and development.
Spend money on community priorities without going into debt: My proposed budget cuts would result in $14 million in savings over the next two years. That money should be spent on roads maintenance and critical infrastructure projects that have been deferred for the last decade (e.g., Wing Point Way, Halls Hill Road, Manitou Beach Road, Rockaway Beach Road, Country Club Road and non-motorized improvement projects on Madison and Miller).
The budget cuts that I am proposing will be challenging and will require the city to change the way it does business. However, we cannot afford to have another procrastinating council that mortgages our community’s future for short term gain.
It’s time to elect city council members who are willing and able to make the difficult decisions needed to move our city forward. We need to bring a new culture and attitude to City Hall. It’s time for the city to begin using our tax dollars to support and serve the community and help build a better future for us all.