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Published: Monday, November 2, 2009, 12:01 a.m.

Monroe city staff cuts not enough

Mayor Donnetta Walser expects to cut services to deal with tax revenue losses.

MONROE — The staff here just ain’t what it used to be.
In the past year, the city has left vacant about 14 positions. There’s no city clerk or human resources director. Spots for a senior city planner, a police sergeant and a few police officers sit empty, according to the city finance department.
All told, the staff has shrunk to 110 people following layoffs and a hiring freeze. The 2010 budget, which the City Council will take up again at a Nov. 10 meeting, will leave most spots empty and call for more cuts to deal with a precipitous drop in sales tax revenue.
“We will be cutting services,” Mayor Donnetta Walser said.
Revenue from sales taxes provides a main source of income for the city’s $10.4 million general fund, which supports departments such as parks, planning and police. However, the recession and a decline in the retail sales that drive tax receipts have been a blow.
Since 2007, sales tax revenue has fallen by close to $1 million, from a 10-year high of $4.17 million in 2007 to a projected $3.27 million this year.
That two-year, 21 percent drop has been felt in this city of 17,000, a fact evident by budget plans.
For instance, along with vacancies, raises will shrink. This year, most saw a 5 percent pay increase. The 2010 budget will cut raises to 2 percent, the lowest amount allowed by union contracts.
More cuts will be necessary since initial revenue projections were off. The city is lowering projections it released in mid-October, finance director Carol Grey said.
City staff may have to look at big-dollar items. Labor costs make up the largest part of the general fund.
Walser said she will look to the City Council for a course of action, while council members said another round of belt-tightening will be in order.
In 2010, the city will need a “bare-bones budget,” Councilman Tony Balk said, a point echoed by others.
Councilmen Mitch Ruth and John Stima both said the city might have to use outside attorneys less often to cut legal bills, and also delay big-dollar purchases.
Many ideas will have to be considered in the next two months. Under state law, a balanced budget needs to be in place by Dec. 31.
Beyond then, there is cause for some optimism, Walser said.
She pointed to sale negotiations with a Seattle developer, Sabey Corp. The developer, which may spend $9.6 million to buy 24 acres of land from the city, could bring a big-box store to Monroe.
More businesses could follow, buoying tax revenue, Walser said.
“I see some light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “but it’s going to be a lot of work getting there.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455,
Story tags » Monroe

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