Newcastle City Council budget cuts top $1 million
February 4, 2010
By Tim Pfarr
The City Council cut $1.02 million from the 2010 budget during meetings last month. Of that amount, about $820,000 was cut from the 2010 capital budget, and about $206,000 was cut from the operating budget.
Before altering the budget, the city was facing a $363,000 budget shortfall. Councilman Bill Erxleben said the City Council is not yet finished working on the budget.The operating budget
At an additional council meeting Jan. 12, Erxleben motioned to direct city staff to take steps to reduce operating expenses by 3 percent, about $186,000 in cuts. At the meeting, the council directed interim City Manager Rob Wyman to return with proposed cuts within six weeks.
“I think it can be done,” Erxleben said. “I do see the opportunity to do it.”
The motioned passed unanimously.
Wyman said he has not yet decided what cuts he will propose. He said he wants to be certain he completely understands the budget and confers with city staff members before making his proposals to the council.
Deputy Mayor Buri voted to withdraw funds for the city’s legislative lobbyist, Mike Doubleday. Through the city’s contract with Doubleday, city officials were required to give him 30 days notice of termination, thus forcing the city to retain Doubleday’s services until Feb. 12.
“This is not a reflection on Mike, but on the shortfall we’re facing,” Buri said.
Putter offered a friendly amendment to the motion. In a friendly amendment, a member of the council asks the individual to alter his or her original motion instead of making a formal amendment.
Putter’s amendment called for termination of Doubleday’s contract to take effect March 11, the end of the current legislative session. However, the amendment was not accepted.
The council voted 6-1 to terminate Doubleday’s contract as soon as possible, with Councilman Sonny Putter dissenting. Director of Finance Christine Olson estimated the city will still have about $4,000 in lobbyist fees for the year because the city was not able to terminate Doubleday’s contract immediately.
The capital budget — branding and consulting
Erxleben motioned to terminate all of the city’s consulting contracts for branding and economic development projects, as well as have economic development consultant Michael Pearce’s name removed from the city’s Web site.
Erxleben described the city’s branding as “pretty much a disaster.” He said the city has spent more than $1 million on branding throughout the past 10 years with little to show for it.
Councilwoman Carol Simpson said she felt the public had lost confidence in the city on the branding project.
The council voted unanimously in favor of terminating the contracts. As a result, $30,000 allotted for parks signs has been cut, as has $20,000 allotted for historical signs.
Simpson motioned to halt the budgeted expansion of the playground at Lake Boren Park in favor of repairing existing equipment.
In the capital budget, the city had allotted $315,000 for the playground expansion. City staff members do not yet have an estimate as to how much the safety improvements will cost, but the money for the improvements will come from the city’s operating budget instead of its capital budget.
Transit center signs
Councilwoman Lisa Jensen motioned to halt production of signs for the transit center. The motioned passed unanimously, but Public Works Director Maiya Andrews later reported to the council that fabrication of the signs had already started.
These signs included 9-by-4-foot signs that are to be placed alongside the road on Coal Creek Parkway.
Erxleben motioned to reallocate $300,000 from design and construction of a sidewalk on 116th Avenue Southeast to construction of a sidewalk on one side of the road between Southeast 88th Place and 84th Street.
The council unanimously voted in favor of the motion, but city staff members have not yet determined what can be built with $300,000.
Lake Boren maintenance building
The council voted 6-1, with Putter dissenting, to cut funds for the Lake Boren maintenance building. The city had budgeted $320,000 for the project in 2010, and it planned on spending $1.25 million on the project in 2011.
Erxleben said he was in favor of cutting these funds in favor of finding a cheaper alternative. The building was initially budgeted to cost less than $50,000, but it subsequently became a $1.5 million project.
City Hall studies
Erxleben also made a motion to remove $50,000 allocated for analysis and design of a new City Hall. He said the city should begin negotiating an extension to the lease on its current building, as the best option is keeping City Hall in the same location if the city can secure an affordable rate for the lease.
“At this point in time, we are in no financial shape to embark on a project that would include an $8 million City Hall,” Erxleben said.
Dulcich said city officials should consider their options, but they shouldn’t spend that amount of money doing so.
“Why do you have to spend that kind of money to look at your options?” he asked in an interview after the meeting. “We need to get all options on the table, but we don’t need to hire a consultant to tell us what our options are.”
Putter said the city should explore options other than leasing from its current landlord.
“We need to look at other alternatives for renting to assure that we have an alternative in negotiating with our current landlord,” he said.
Putter added that owning City Hall is a better option for the city in the long run, as ownership will give the city an asset and put an end to fees associated with leasing.
The motion to remove the $50,000 allocated to analyzing and designing a new City Hall passed unanimously.
Improvements to Lake Boren access
Finally, Erxleben made a motion to cut $85,000 from the capital budget allotted to street improvements on 129th Avenue Southeast between Newcastle Way and the north end of Lake Boren Park. Specifically, the project called for pedestrian improvements and minor roadway improvements.
Erxleben’s motion also called for the project to be considered when the council prioritizes the city’s expenses at a later date.
2010 budget cuts
- Lobbyist fees: About $16,000
- Pending cuts, unspecified: $186,000
- Branding: $50,000
- Playground expansion: $315,000
- Funds for city hall study: $50,000
- Maintenance building: $320,000
- Improved access to Lake Boren Park: $85,000