City prepares 2012 budget | GUEST OPINION

The city budget planning process is well underway for the coming fiscal year, as departments carefully review service levels and assess cost efficiencies for the City Council to consider in adoption of a 2012 balanced budget.

Thorough and systematic review of the budget by the Mayor, Chief Administrative Officer and department heads is an early step in a planning process to align priorities with community needs. Our scrutiny of all expenses and financial oversight throughout the year are key to providing a base of knowledge for the annual budget process.

I encourage your involvement in this year’s budget process and welcome your meaningful input at public meetings in October and November; citizen participation is essential to maintaining public transparency in this process.

Now that you have a better sense of what’s ahead in the coming few months, it’s a good time reflect back on how the city has fared since a year ago when we took decisive action to reform the way government in Marysville conducts the public’s financial business.

We prepared the 2011 budget with the priority of looking beyond 2011 and creating financial stability for the long term by reducing expenditures, replenishing depleted reserves, paying off city debt more aggressively to ease our debt burden and boost our creditworthiness, and ensuring all funds are solvent and healthy. We applied the same approach that many struggling families and businesses are doing in their own homes and businesses today: be realistic about what we can afford, focus funding on our core priorities, and save for tomorrow’s needs.

Our nation and region have struggled under the financial pressures of an anemic economy, and fears of another recession linger. Marysville has fared better than many jurisdictions. That remains true today because of the disciplined spending philosophy of “living within our means” that has served us well in 2011, and will carry us through 2012 and beyond.

The 2011 budget was not without some painful decisions and shared sacrifices, but it was decisive action that has kept the city on the right financial track — delaying or passing on budget problems only makes them worse. We faced a 2010 revenue shortfall that forced immediate budget cuts. City departments reduced operating expenditures and we reduced the employee workforce by 10 percent from 2010 through layoffs and removal of vacant positions.

Among other steps, we began to replenish reserves as we plan for continued fiscal uncertainty in the overall economy. Reserves are on track to exceed our goal of 6.5 percent by the end of this year, with the objective to further increase those levels in the future to provide financial security and stability for the city. Re-establishment of adequate reserve levels, adequate funds for facility maintenance, and re-establishment of a vehicle replacement fund will provide stability for continuing the provision of core services within the city.

Finally, as part of our budget reforms, we took a hard look at the inventory of city-owned properties to explore revenue-generating opportunities including pursuing potential leases and selling off unused or no-longer-needed properties. Two examples stand out: Cedarcrest Golf Course now has a successful restaurant — Bleachers at Cedarcrest — that is now paying monthly rent to the city instead of the city being in the business itself.

Second, we aggressively sought a company to purchase the city-owned former Coca Cola plant property after re-evaluating the need to immediately expand City Public Works yard facilities. Effective government entails monitoring current circumstances and reevaluating priorities based on those assessments.  Instead of a Public Works facility relocation and expansion, the city will welcome Parr Lumber Company into the community. The sale recaptures the City’s purchase price for the building, reduces our overall debt, and leaves the city with adequate land to accomplish future long term needs. Parr Lumber is a Northwest family-owned company with a strong sense of community. The jobs they will generate in the community and the tax revenues they will generate through their retail and wholesale operations could not come at a better time.

Financial projections to date appear to support the budget reductions taken over the past year. Here in city government, we are living within our means.  We focus on meeting the priorities of our citizens with the resources that we have. While there have been some program cuts, our employees have shown a commitment to delivering customer service and maximizing government resources. We anticipate the same cautious, conservative approach for the 2012 budget which will allow us to continue to provide core services at current resource levels.

Through our actions, I believe we will emerge from the current difficult times stronger and more financially secure. In the meantime, we will continue fighting crime, improving neighborhoods, growing our economy,  planning for the future and saving money; and we will continue reforming and streamlining the way we do business.

Mayor Jon Nehring can be reached at mayor@marysvillewa.gov or 360-363-8091

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