City officials in Oak Harbor completed the two-year budget this week in what was described as the most difficult fiscal exercise in more than a decade.
While Oak Harbor made it through the worst of the Great Recession relatively unscathed, Finance Director Doug Merriman said balancing the books for the coming years was a challenge because of an unexpected drop in revenues.
Sales tax collections, for example, have declined an estimated $220,000, year over year, and the city’s share of liquor excise taxes has dwindled.
After weeks of cost cutting and refining, the city council passed the biennial budget Tuesday night.
“This is probably the hardest budget process we’ve had in a long time and it doesn’t end tonight,” Merriman told the council, explaining that there are a number of funds he will need to keep a close eye on.
The entire budget, including all the utilities funds, was just over $82 million for 2013. The general fund, which supports such general governmental functions as the police and fire departments, is $15.9 million for 2013.
That’s a modest decrease from $16.08 million for 2012.
The general fund budget includes a $3.1-million stabilization fund that the City Council approved this year.
The first step in creating the budget was for department heads to submit their funding requests. Based on that, the initial budget imbalance was about $1.5 million, Merriman said.
In order to help balance the ledger, city officials eliminated six positions, though nobody lost a job.
The city will no longer hire lifeguards for the lagoon at Windjammer Park in the summer. A number of vacancies won’t be filled; they are an administrative assistant for the city administrator, a building inspector, a police lieutenant and an evidence technician.
A city planner and a park employee will be transferred to positions in other departments that aren’t supported by the general fund.
Tuesday night, JoAnn Hellmann of the Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County, commonly known as IDIPIC, complained that the budget doesn’t include a $2,400 grant for her organization. She argued that the small amount of money does a great deal of good by supporting a program that helps save lives by educating people about the realities of impaired driving.
The majority of council members supported funding IDIPIC, but didn’t want to amend the budget for the small change. They asked the city staff to bring back the issue at a later date for consideration outside the regular budget process. Merriman said funding the small amount wouldn’t even require a full budget amendment.