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Bellevue council approves 2011-12 budget
The City Council Monday finished off the season-long, painstaking 2011-12 budget "reset" that will help navigate Bellevue through the continuing recession.
"I'm very proud of this budget," said Council Member Jennifer Robertson. "It's balanced, has no new taxes and really honors the stewardship of this city."
The new budget protects human services and public safety but requires a reduction in city and increased utility rates.
Not everyone was in favor of the result of the process. Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee was the sole nay vote on the budget. Lee proposed a failed motion that all money allocated for East Link analysis ($6.2 million) would be placed in a reserve so that any spending had to be authorized by council. When the motion did not pass, Lee didn't feel comfortable with the budget, saying it didn't have enough oversight on East Link, one of the biggest projects in the city's history.
Others voted for the budget, but were concerned about a deviation from Bellevue's traditional long-term planning.
"This is a budget that is a reflection of the times," said Council Member Grant Degginger. "I hope that the next budget can be more visionary and more reflective of what our hopes and dreams are."
The whole budget, made up of operating and capital programs, totals more than $1 billion, but many of the council's discussions over the past several weeks have focused primarily on the last one or two percent of the two programs.
Most of the final revisions to the operating and capital budgets progressed smoothly, with the council voting unanimously to include $80,000 in additional funding for the arts, restore a Bellevue Fire Department aid car to 24-hour status and provide funding for two additional motorcycle officers for the Bellevue Police Department.
The biggest sticking point came in an amendment to move even more than the originally planned $12 million out of the extension and improvement of Northeast 15th and 16th Streets as part of the Bel-Red plan to the improvement of 120th Avenue Northeast and the extension of Northeast 4th Street.
Robertson presented a motion to remove an additional $3 million from design funds and $12 million from right-of-way acquisition, essentially taking all money for property acquisition and leaving very little for design work.
The council voted 5-2 on the amendment, with those who voted against worried about the message this sends about the Bel-Red plan.
"It's really concerning to me that some of us pay lip service to the Bel-Red plan, but we don't actually want to put our money where our mouth is and actually advance it," said Council member Claudia Balducci.
Other council members were confused by their colleagues' concern. They said the extension of Northeast 4th Street and 120th Avenue Northeast was a crucial part of improving Bel-Red.
All along, the council has emphasized cutting costs, while still retaining crucial facets that make Bellevue unique, such as strong public safety, human services and the arts.
Council members eagerly supported the motion to add money for the arts, saying it was such a small amount of money for a cause that makes Bellevue such an appealing place.
The council sought to protect public safety from the outset. Members fought to avoid turning off street lights. They pushed to keep money for the fire and police departments.
"This is a continuation of our commitment to public safety that we've had to make sure that we have first-class protection for the people who live here and for the people who come here," Degginger said.
The council was particularly excited about reinstating the 24-hour aid car. They praised the collaboration displayed as the firefighter's union accepted a $400,000 concession to make the plan work.
But it wasn't all good news. This budget includes a reduction of approximately 59 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers and no cost-of-living adjustments for employees.
Some of the costs will also go back to citizens. Though no taxes will be raised, increases in utility prices will begin Jan. 1.
Water customers will see an average increase of 3.3 percent in 2011, and 7.9 percent in 2012. Sewer users will be charged an extra 8.5 percent next year, and another 1.5 percent the following year, while storm water customers will get 3.2 percent increases in the next two years.
Council members were happy to fund the public safety and arts programs, but to do so they delved into reserve funds. The arts and public safety amendments cost a combined $650,000, which was charged to the reserves. But even with these charges, the council will use less than one percent of the reserve to make their budget when other cities are gutting their organizations just to get by. Still, council members wanted to see a return to normalcy with the next budget cycle.
"This was a real challenge," Balducci said. "We took a step away from our traditional, very conservative approach to budgeting for the long-term."