Poulsbo budget talk centers on ‘equal opportunity’ cuts

POULSBO — The Viking City is looking for ways to balance its $36 million budget, including how to overcome a projected $1 million shortfall.

Last week the Poulsbo City Council looked at various service cuts to meet its goal, and discussed a prioritized balancing act between citizen safety and the taxpayers’ dollar.

Some budget changes could start small, including a roughly $5,000 savings by cutting back a contribution to Viking Fest and instead asking the organization to make up the difference. A similar situation goes for watering downtown flower baskets, which the city would save nearly $6,000 by splitting the responsibility with the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association.

Other solutions are sought in putting less into savings and drawing money from the city’s Revenue Stabilization Fund, something the council members think shouldn’t be alarming, as it’s often done in the budget balancing process.

The city’s general fund is valued at $9.7 million, and finance director Deb Booher said Poulsbo is looking to have a beginning balance of $500,000 in 2009. The final budget will be approved by the council next month.

The city will also save by not filling vacant positions for building inspector, community services officer and parks ground maintenance.

Much discussion revolved around one of two open patrol officer positions in the police department, which the Finance Committee recommended not filling. Eventually, a split vote decided both patrol officer positions would be funded in the budget, mainly to relieve pressure on the city’s current force.

“The officers today are having to carry the burden,” said Council Member Dale Rudolph. Council Member Kim Crowder, who serves on the Public Safety Committee, noted the positions lessen quality of life for officers having to put in overtime.

“I don’t think we should have it in the budget in the first place (as an item to go unfunded),” she said. “It sends the wrong message.”

Council and Finance Committee member Becky Erickson said the police department funds an average of 11.5 hours of overtime per pay cycle — two of its patrol positions have been vacant for close to a year due to difficulty in finding worthy applicants — and budget cut recommendations were made with “equal opportunity.”

She cited declining revenues and called for prudent conservation. The Finance Committee approached the budget shortfall by looking at each line item, and attempted to “cause the least pain while maintaining overall level of services.”

“There was no intent to pick on the police,” she said, later adding “it was not easy doing $1 million worth of work.”

Council Member Ed Stern said Poulsbo is the only jurisdiction in the area not laying off law enforcement, and delaying hiring is a more likable play than firing.

“Let’s face it everybody, we’re in a worldwide recession,” he said.

Stern, Erickson and Council Member Linda Berry-Maraist voted to nix the position’s funding, while Rudolph, Erickson and council members Jeff McGinty and Connie Lord opted to reinstate it into the budget. Lord said she understood both arguments, but took a “positive gamble.”

The patrol officer position will cost about $84,000. Funding for a $50,000 equipped police car, which is on rotation to be replaced this year, was not reinstated in the budget. Department cars are normally replaced after reaching 65,000 miles.

Poulsbo Police Chief Dennis Swiney said currently at least one viable candidate is in the interviewing process for an open patrol position.

Crowder also questioned removing funding for half of the funding for police enforcement at Viking Fest, which the city will ask the festival’s organization to make up so the event is still fully patrolled.

Stern said the city has long supported the Viking Fest organization, even helping with last year’s carnival relocation costs, and now is a time they city will ask organizers to step up.

“Once we have good times again we will be sharing as we did,” he said.

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