DENIS LAW: City budget tight; layoffs are likely

(Editor’s note: The following is a letter that Mayor Denis Law sent to City of Renton employees recently, outlining the state of the city’s finances and explaining what they should expect in the 2010 budget.)

For the past 18 months or so, we have all been subjected to ongoing news regarding the impacts from the national recession. While I don’t want to add to the anxieties caused by so much uncertainty, I made a commitment to communicate with you as frequently as possible with information regarding the budget process and potential impacts.

The development of the 2010 budget continues to be very challenging as we deal with the revenue impact brought on by the worst the economic downturn in recent history. As our revenues associated with new development and sales tax continue to decline, we are forced to make hard decisions for next year that will include workforce reductions.

On Sept. 17, we had the first of many meetings with the Renton City Council. We began to lay the foundation for the 2010 budget, which I will propose to the council on Oct. 19. I want to share with you some information on our revenue projections and how the budget is currently shaping up.

As I reported in my previous email to you, our revenue projections for 2010 (for our general governmental funds) are estimated at $95.5 million, which is about $6.5 million less than our 2009 base budget projections. A number of the budget reductions we made in 2009 — such as utilizing emergency reserves, employee compensation through furlough days and increased employee contributions to medical costs — were one-time savings. We are now forced to address this budget gap with strategies that will provide a longer term solution.

Given the budget cuts we’ve already had to make in the past two years, we are down to the “bone.” We have eliminated almost everything that you could consider non-essential – from travel and training to purchases of equipment and other basic needs. But these are short-term, quick-fix solutions and are not sustainable. So we are approaching the 2010 budget with a focus on priorities, performance and results.

In order to determine the programs and services that we will be able to offer our citizens in the future, we must reinvent ourselves as an organization and clearly define our priorities. We also need to establish the levels of service within those priorities that we are going to continue to provide to our citizens.

Many of you participated in our efforts earlier this year to examine our service priorities and to identify the key programs expected by our taxpayers. Administrators and staff from every department carefully reviewed the recommendations to determine citywide priorities and the most efficient ways of doing business. Unlike previous years, we used a “zero-based” approach to the budget to justify every expenditure, regardless of how long it has been in the budget. We have wrestled with a myriad of budgeting decisions, looking at even relatively small items, knowing that these services are very important to some of our residents.

As a result of this process, the budget I present to the City Council will be the product of a lot of hard work by department heads and many members of our staff in identifying those things we believe to be priorities to our citizens.

While there are still some final decisions to be made, the 2010 budget will unfortunately require layoffs. Balancing our budget next year will require we lay off approximately 30 to 35 positions. I want to emphasize that nothing is final, and no details will be released until I present the budget to the City Council Oct. 19.

City administrators and I are agonizing over having to lay off employees during this difficult economic time. It’s been nearly three decades since the city had to face employee lay-offs. It is especially painful to make these decisions at a time when job opportunities are so limited.

We are committed to do whatever we can to assist those employees who find themselves in that position. After Oct. 19, we will work closely with each employee to provide as much notification as possible and provide as many resources as we can to ease the pain. Decisions will be finalized once the City Council approves the budget.

While it’s clear that the services we provide as a city will be changing, I feel confident that we will rebound and continue to be a community where people want to live and work.

Thank you

Denis Law

Mayor, City of Renton

Mayor Denis Law can be reached at dlaw@rentonwa.gov.


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