Mayor’s Memo: A budget to be proud of

The city found a way to deliver a balanced budget without raising taxes or cutting services.

By Jim Ferrell

President Teddy Roosevelt loved to share a quote that was told to him by a prominent community figure in Virginia and friend of his, Squire Bill Widener, who was also a millwright, soldier, teacher, Justice of the Peace and spiritual advisor.

He said: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Roosevelt loved the homely philosophy as a way to sum up one’s duty in life.

This philosophy also perfectly illustrates a picture of the City of Federal Way’s 2019-20 biennial budget that was approved during the Dec. 4 City Council meeting.

This balanced budget delivers what the community expects and deserves — without raising taxes, laying off any city employees, or dipping into the general fund reserve, all while continuing to provide the same level of services.

We are doing the very best with what we’ve got and where we are as a community. Working together with your City Council and each department director at the City while using the guiding principles of zero based budgeting suggested by Council member Hoang Tran, we went through the budget line by line to identify the true needs of the community.

But it was not a simple process. We were in a daunting situation a mere nine months ago, when our finance director told us we would have to dip into the general fund reserve to the tune of about $1 million — possibly for both 2019 and 2020 — about $2 million for the biennium.

Upon hearing this news, I said firmly, no, we will not do that.

Immediately, I convened the department directors, and we found a way to bridge that gap. And along with the City Council, we did exactly that.

Directors of the big four departments – Parks and Rec, the Police, Public Works and Community Development – dug deep and found more than $200,000 each in savings and efficiencies for a total of about $1 million toward 2019.

Smaller departments such as IT, the Clerk’s Office, Human Resources and Finance, were not subjected to that financial scrutiny due to the fact they are already operating at the very minimum.

Ultimately, we found a way to deliver a balanced budget without raising taxes or cutting services that provides a small cost-of-living adjustment for our non-union city employees (who, prior to my becoming mayor, had gone without a cost of living adjustment for six years) and will also pay for a comprehensive salary study in 2019.

We are in the business of providing services. We have built up a staff of highly-qualified individuals who have a wide breadth of institutional knowledge. But we continue to lose good people to other cities – we are losing that intellectual capital because they are finding a more competitive salary package elsewhere.

While 2019 is a year of austerity as we adhere to a strict bottom line, we are looking forward to a nearly $2 million budget surplus in 2020 from the calculated and fiscally-responsible decision to leave the SCORE jail services contract.

Because the future of the litigation surrounding the water and sewer tax ordinance and any revenue that comes from it is undecided at this moment, we did not include any of the potential revenue in our budgeting plans.

I’m fortunate to have dedicated and hard-working council members who are policy partners with vision and commitment to Federal Way. Our final budget is the financial plan that keeps in place or brings into being all the individual programs and projects that address our community’s needs.

I would like to thank all of our department directors and our City Council for all the hard work put forth to pass this budget. It is truly something that reflects our community and where we are.

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

Jim Ferrell is the mayor of Federal Way. He can be reached at