The Federal Way City Council approved the 2019-2020 city budget 5-2 on Tuesday, with council members Jesse Johnson and Hoang Tran voting against.
After several lengthy meetings discussing budget items over the last few months, the approval came near the end of a four-and-a-half hour meeting Dec. 4, the last council meeting of the year. Before the vote, the council engaged in a long discussion about where they would find money in the budget for the Federal Way Youth Action Team.
During the last meeting on Nov. 20, a previous vote to use $102,000 over two years from the police department supply budget was overturned, a disappointing loss of funds for the organization, which Johnson is a board member of.
Tran brought up a question he thought the council should ask themselves about the proposed budget before its approval.
“Does this budget reflect the council’s priority that we set in February of 2018?”
As this is his first budget cycle working as a council member, Tran said he had been thinking about the council and city’s priorities when it came to resource allocation when designing the budget, and he wanted to ensure he felt funding went to the places it needed to be. Tran did not completely feel this was being done, he said, and he wanted to see more funding go towards preventive programs in the community, especially those targeting youth such as FWYAT. Tran also brought up concerns he has voiced at several other meetings about the city not being prepared enough for future budget shortfalls or potential economic recessions.
Johnson agreed with Tran’s question, asking the council, “Can we honestly say this budget reflects [our] priorities?” Johnson recommended taking the time to look at the budget again, to more closely see if there were areas that needed more funding than were provided.
“You were able to find the $51,000 within the police budget,” Johnson said to Mayor Jim Ferrell, “Where else can we find this money?”
Deputy Mayor Susan Honda expressed gratitude towards Finance Director Ade Ariwoola for his help over the months leading up to this budget discussion, but said she was still uneasy about the city’s finances.
“I remain very very concerned about the state of this city,” Honda said.
Martin Moore expressed concerns with the budgets, saying he didn’t feel the council had done enough for the at-risk youth in the community.
“Who’s gonna fight for them? Does this budget reflect that? No,” Moore said.
Like Johnson, Tran and Honda, Moore also said he did not feel the budget properly addressed some of the city’s priorities.
He urged Ferrell and the council to revisit the budget, a feat that he said he believed was possible by Dec. 31.
City attorney Ryan Call disagreed, telling the council that it was incredibly impractical to try to go back to the drawing board at this point. Call said it was imperative the budget passed that night, and if it did not it was most likely a crime and “it would expose council members to a recall vote.”
“Passing a budget is absolutely required, it’s not an option,” Call said.
Ferrell responded to Moore’s comments, saying that without the work the mayor did on the budget, the city would still be borrowing $1 million per year from the strategic reserve fund.
“We would be talking about laying off city employees,” he said. “This proposed budget doesn’t lay off one city employee.”
Ferrell said he spent days with other department heads and found $1 million in savings for the city without raising taxes.
“That’s what we did, that’s what I stand by,” he said.
Honda also said that while she understood where Moore was coming from with his statements about finding funding for these programs, he was phrasing it in a way that made it seem like the city was doing nothing for the youth in the community.
“That is simply not true.”
Council member Dini Duclos stood behind the budget.
“Budgets are not chiseled in stone, they can be amended during the year,” she said, urging the council to pass the budget so they had something to work with during the year.
Johnson disagreed, saying budget efficiency was more important than passing a budget just to pass it. Council member Mark Koppang said this financial situation was one the city has known for a while.
“We know that going into 2019 we were gonna be tight,” Koppang said. “The relief is coming in 2020.”
After a lengthy back and forth between the council members regarding finding funding to put towards other programs like FWYAT, Ferrell expressed his frustration with the time spent discussing $51,000 for the FWYAT and South King County Housing & Homeless Partners in a $48 million budget.
“We’re running out of runway, and we’re flirting with a serious problem.”
Ferrell said he worked for hours trying to find the money for these programs that residents then wanted to take back, and was frustrated now that council members “want to shut down the city government” to continue to talk about this.
Johnson again asked if the mayor would be able to find the $51,000 from another area in the future.
“If you want me to find $51,000, I’m gonna probably need to lay someone off. You want me to go there? We’ll go there,” Ferrell said.
He said he was able to find $51,000 the first time, and they could have found that money as well.
“You guys have had these budget books for months,” Ferrell said. “You could have found $51,000.”
Koppang said he thought the issue of this funding was more about timing.
“I don’t think anybody on the council is disagreeing with a desire to fund the youth action team. We’re disagreeing on the timing and the priority, that’s all.”
Koppang said he wanted to look at funding the program in March, after passing the budget now.
However, Moore made a motion to amend the budget before it was passed and take $25,000 of overtime from the police budget to put towards the FWYAT for 2019. Honda expressed some concerns over how this would affect the police department, but Police Chief Andy Hwang said as long as the moeny was made up for in 2019 it should not be a problem for them. The amendment passed unanimously.
Council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson proposed a similar amendment for $26,000 for the Housing & Homeless Partners from the police department overtime budget. Honda seconded the amendment, with the understanding that the money would be restored to the police department with the first amendment to the budget in 2019.