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Budget woes lead city to consider cuts

From left, Graham Smith, Dick Butner, Rob Putnam, Chris Raezer, Vic Ericson and Paul Ellis discuss priorities for the near future at one-day “mini retreat” gathering of the Arlington City Council and the city’s upper management staff at Arlington’s River Rock Inn, April 18. - Sarah Arney
From left, Graham Smith, Dick Butner, Rob Putnam, Chris Raezer, Vic Ericson and Paul Ellis discuss priorities for the near future at one-day “mini retreat” gathering of the Arlington City Council and the city’s upper management staff at Arlington’s River Rock Inn, April 18.
— image credit: Sarah Arney

ARLINGTON — Down by 16 percent in the first quarter, the budget was at the top of the list of issues to be discussed when Arlington’s elected officials and department directors gathered for a “mini-retreat” April 18.

That 16 percent boils down to a $395,000 shortfall in just one quarter.

While the purpose of the retreat was primarily big-picture priority setting, they also discussed at length the options for living within a much-tightened budget.

“We know the economy will bounce back, we just don’t know when,” said City Administrator Allen Johnson.

“We will make no cuts to public safety,” he added.

Upper management was then refining its plan to shut down city offices on key days through the year with staff taking no-pay leave on those days.

“We have done all the cost-saving measures that we can do,” said Assistant Administrator Kristin Banfield, the city’s spokesperson and personnel director.

“The staff has been very helpful in tightening up,” she said. “We are cutting back on copies and turning off the lights whenever possible, but it’s not enough,” Banfield said, adding they planned to announce the strategy to employees Tuesday, April 28.

“We don’t want to lay off anyone,” Banfield said, adding that a few positions have not been filled in the last few months in the permitting department.

“We tried to distribute the furlough days throughout the year for as little impact as possible to both employees and the public who may need city services,” Banfield said, adding, most of the furlough days are connected with long weekends and are days that are typically very slow at City Hall.

“Like the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” she said. “We chose the days that are always really dead anyway.”

Along with budget, budget, budget, planning for the future was also the purpose of the retreat.

The morning started with department managers naming their own personal priorities followed by time for the elected officials to do the same. In the end, the Council members voted on all the projects on the table, with their favorites named as the top 10 priorities for the year ahead, in a red-dot process facilitated by City Attorney Steve Peiffle.

Managers said the process helps them to know they have support from the elected officials.

“It’s just nice to know we are working on the right stuff,” said Bill Blake, the city’s natural resource manager and assistant community development director.

“This slow time provides an opportunity or us to plan for the future when there is money again,” said City Councilwoman Marilyn Oertle.

In the end, it was the Smokey Point Boulevard corridor planning project that gained the most votes as top priority, second to 172nd Street and transportation in general.

“Since 172nd is a state highway, it is pretty much out of our hands,” said Mayor Margaret Larson. The city is planning, however, to extend 51st Street across the airport to provide an option around the Smokey Point Boulevard and 172nd Street intersection, although the extension is not funded at this time.

Along with planning the future of Smokey Point Boulevard, the city has found a site on the boulevard for a new fire station, according to Fire Chief Jim Rankin.

Rankin and Assistant Administrator Paul Ellis shared news about an existing building near the kidney treatment center that meets their needs for a new fire station to serve all of the boulevard, from the southern city limit to Island Crossing.

“Since the annexation of Island Crossing, we decided that the southwest corner of the Arlington Airport was not the proper place for our second major station 48. We are looking at leasing a unit in a building that has the space we need, including a room to share with the police department for report writing,” Ellis said.

Staffing at the fire station includes three paid staff who are currently finishing a share agreement with Marysville, as well as some potential sharing with the Silvana Fire District 19 that is currently in discussion.

Planning the future of Smokey Point Boulevard was launched earlier this year with a rezone from light industrial to highway commercial.

After a lengthy discussion on potential projects to attract visitors from the I-5 corridor during the Olympic Games, Johnson said, “I hate to be crassly blatant, but all these projects you are talking about cost money. You can see that the primary source of income is retail sales tax. Forget the Olympics, we need to get people off the I-5 corridor every day,” he said.

“We need to chase the sales tax train,” Johnson added.

Discussions on economic development also noted the impending retirement of economic development manager Vic Ericson in August, who is currently busy training city staff on internal and external customer service and has been an advocate for communications with the community. Retreat participants also discussed launching a search for the replacement of long-time finance department director, who is retiring at the end of the year.

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