Opinion

2014 Preliminary Budget is cautious, optimistic | GUEST OPINION

Last week, I presented my proposed 2014 Budget to Marysville citizens and the City Council, a cautious but optimistic spending plan that takes investing back into Marysville’s future to the next level.

Marysville has steered through some difficult financial challenges in recent years, but we have continued responsibly to take the necessary steps to protect the interests of our citizens, guided by a disciplined operating philosophy.

We have reduced expenditures, built up emergency reserves to save for a rainy day, paid off city debt (specifically on the public safety building and library), refinanced long-term bonds at better-than-expected rates and without extending the life of the loan, made government more efficient and planned for long-term financial stability by investing sensibly in Marysville’s future.

We are in an enviable position. The city’s finances are healthy and stable, thanks to difficult decisions made and past actions of the City Council and Department Directors who have held the line on spending.

If the Great Recession taught us anything, it’s that moving forward our city government needed to instill a culture of financial stewardship that carries throughout the organization. We have done that. It’s a culture change that is here to stay.

The $115.5 million Preliminary Budget for 2014 is a balanced spending plan that keeps Marysville on a healthy financial course, and protects core services and investments that have helped our city withstand the recession better than many other jurisdictions.

Despite what looks like modest improvements in the economy, we have cause to be wary that our budget challenges are not over. Local governments were hit hard during the recession that caused sales tax revenues to plummet.

The General Fund in the proposed 2014 operating budget is $41.5 million, a 3.7 percent increase over 2013 spending levels of $40 million. The General Fund is used for police and courts, contracted fire and emergency services, parks and recreation, planning and engineering, street repair and other day-to-day general government operations.

The increase in 2014 is mainly to reinvest into city assets and the community, which would include funding for new police officer positions and an increase in subsidy of $290,302 for operational needs in Streets. For the first time in several years, assessed property values went up, easing the challenge to one of the city’s largest funding sources. The 2014 proposed budget forecasts a rise in assessed values, as estimates from the County Assessor are considered. Retail sales taxes in 2013 show increases from the year prior; new construction contributed almost half, and retail sales continue to grow, with larger items such as vehicles and appliances being prominent among purchases. Although these are signs of a slow recovery, a conservative approach is prudent for 2014.

The city of Marysville’s healthy and stable financial picture will allow us to continue building upon our investments back into the community. We are able to continue to rebuild funding for some of the core government services that got put on the shelf because of the unstable economy.

Over the past two budget cycles, mine and the Council’s goal was to begin replenishing our Fund Balance to 10 percent of revenues. In 2012, we reached 10 percent, and met our emergency reserve target ahead of schedule. In 2014, we are confident that we will be able to maintain this level of emergency reserve.

Marysville maintains one of the lowest employee-to-citizen ratios in the state. We will continue to run lean on staffing levels while providing the highest value of service for our taxpayers.

Several proposed initiatives in the 2014 budget are worth mentioning, since they will enable us to keep advancing our goals for economic development, transportation infrastructure and other key service priorities:

  • Buildup of our Capital Reserve Fund.
  • Street maintenance and pavement preservation.
  • Funding improvements for fleet, facilities and IT needs put on hold in recent years, as well as setting aside reserves for future needs in those areas.
  • Fully funding five new patrol officers (with a sixth grant-funded officer) to enhance public safety and help to bring down police overtime.
  • Investment of $150,000 toward downtown-waterfront revitalization efforts.
  • Renewal of $60,000 for code enforcement neighborhood cleanup and Clean Sweep Activities in the spring.
  • Funding for walkway improvements near schools.
  • Park trail construction funds for Phase II of Bayview Trail and trail construction associated with the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project, and dollars toward construction of a spray park in Comeford Park.
  • Money for much needed park improvements.
  • Increased funding for city streets for improvements, enhancements and overlays that gets us halfway to where we would like to be on an annual basis.

Transportation investments remain one of our top priorities. We are looking forward to bringing online these projects in the new year:

  • State Avenue and 88th Street improvements — a westbound to northbound right drop lane on 88th, and other safety and traffic signal improvements within the State Avenue corridor.
  • 88th and 55th Avenue improvements, including installation of a traffic signal, widening and a left-turn pocket.
  • Interchange Justification Reports (IJRs) for SR 529 and I-5 interchange expansion — An IJR is a necessary early step when seeking to build or make changes to a federal highway interchange. This expansion would add a new on- and off-ramp that would bypass the railroad tracks entirely, thereby addressing access challenges created by train traffic at the Fourth Street/I-5 interchange. A second IJR would seek improvements at the Fourth Street/I-5 intersection to further address traffic congestion. Completing these initial IJR’s would allow us to seek funding for actual project construction.

This spending plan seeks to maintain Marysville’s status as a desirable community in which to live, work and play, while maintaining a stable economic foundation on behalf of our citizens.

This preliminary budget builds on our priorities and community values, but it needs your voice. I invite you to become a part of the budget process by joining us for a public hearing to share your input on the preliminary budget scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1049 State Ave. To view the budget online, visit the City website at http://marysvillewa.gov/budget.

I encourage your questions and suggestions on the community issues important to you, and the services your City provides. You can contact me by telephone at 360-363-8089 or email jnehring@marysvillewa.gov.

 

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