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Rainy day fund: Cushion comes at a cost

Abandoning park improvements and pay raises for Federal Way employees, among other things, could accomplish a balanced biennial budget while simultaneously growing the city’s “rainy day fund.”

On Nov. 18, city manager Neal Beets proposed a plan to increase the fund — a $1 million emergency stash — by $2.1 million. If accepted by the city council during final budget deliberations next month, the proposal will eliminate a handful of one-time expenses in the 2009-2010 budget, thus funneling the savings into rainy day reserves — and giving the city a larger cushion if the national economic crisis does not improve in coming years.

“If we get through this budget cycle without layoffs or spending the rainy day fund, that’s a tremendous statement about our fiscal management,” city council member Jim Ferrell said.

But growing the fund will come at a cost. Cutting park improvements and using Proposition One money to pay for police overtime are expected. In addition, city employees may not see pay raises the council has deliberated since April.

Park improvements

To avoid spending the funds but actually increase the savings, improvements to two parks may be scaled down or put on hold.

The council had previously planned to spend $800,000 at Lakota Park and $500,000 at Laurelwood Park in 2009. Lakota is used by the Federal Way School District because it is close to Lakota Middle School. Alterations there may be addressed by the school district as the school undergoes bond-approved construction.

The funds for Laurelwood would have gone toward improving park safety. Council is now considering spending only $200,000 for improvements there. Items, such as a playground equipment and basketball courts, will likely be foregone if Beets’ proposal is accepted. However, grants may be available to secure funding for those attractions, city council member Jeanne Burbidge said.

“The main idea there was to make it safe,” Burbidge said. “I think we can do that for $200,000.”

Police

Proposition One, a 1.75 percent utility tax increase to fund public safety, was passed by residents in November 2006. Beets’ proposal suggests using money gathered from the measure in 2007 to pay for police overtime. Overtime hours accrued last year in the department’s effort to match the increased levels of service the public voted for, Beets said. At that time, the department had not completed hiring 18 new officers.

Half of the Proposition One reserves will be put into the police’s operating budget, allowing $600,000 previously allocated to the department to be swept into the rainy day fund, Beets said. Now that the department has hired a full staff, the utility tax increase will be used in the future to pay for their services, Beets said.

Pay increases

Last year, the city hired an agency to research the pay scale of its staff. Several employees left the City of Federal Way to seek similar jobs in other cities. The study found Federal Way pays its employees better than only 50 percent of the agencies it compared itself to. When the city incorporated in 1990, it payed better than 65 percent of comparable agencies.

Council and management staff proposed considering a pay raise to ensure non-represented employees were earning market salaries. The goal was to help retain qualified staff. But the $612,000 — $300,000 in 2009 and another $312,000 in 2010 — needed to implement the move was expected to come out of the rainy day fund. Now, council members are considering approving a cost-of-living adjustment or altering salaries that are significantly out of line with market pay, Beets said.

“I think the proposal you’ve laid out makes sense to me,” Ferrell said. “It was well thought out.”

The city council is expected to vote on the budget Dec. 2 at its regularly scheduled meeting.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@federalwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565

Check it out:

To view the proposed budget, visit the city’s Web site at www.cityoffederalway.com.

rainy day fund established during the 2007-2008 mid-biennium budget process

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