City council talks biennial budget, new position

Government: First readings move to create two-year budget cycle and deputy administrator

of the GatewayMarch 12, 2014 

The Gig Harbor City Council held public hearings Monday night to move to a biennial budget cycle and to create a deputy administrator who also would work on economic development.

The new position didn’t sit well with citizens. If the amendment passes, it would create a job at $120,000 annually that would focus on helping the city administrator.

Charlotte Gerloff, who said the position would be a poor use of budget money, added the council should consider better funding for public notices and issues with microphones in council chambers “before we start buying into more assistance.”

Mayor Jill Guernsey advocated for the position, saying it would help the city. Guernsey said not enough is being done with economic development right now, and that’s what determines the future direction of Gig Harbor.

“We’re either going to control our destiny, or our destiny is going to control us,” she said.

Guernsey justified the cost because it would essentially be two jobs — both deputy and manager. For comparison, City Administrator Denny Richards makes an annual base salary of $130,000.07, according to a 2012 public records request from The News Tribune.

But council member Ken Malich didn’t support creating the new position. He asked Guernsey to push the second reading and vote to a future meeting, since he will be traveling when the council meets again on March 24.

Malich said he doesn’t feel the amendment explains the workload that would justify $120,000. He said he would rather see the money go to multiple positions.

“My feeling is that we need more feet on the street, rather than people in an office,” he said.

The council also heard a first reading regarding a move to a biennial budget. Currently, 36 cities and five counties in the state use the approach.

David Rodenbach, the city’s director of finance, said Gig Harbor would benefit because it would save staff time and allow for better preparation for projects. As far as a downside, he said the system would allow less control from the council, which currently approves the budget annually.

Rodenbach said the council has the option of passing two one-year budgets. In that case, there would be a mid-biennium review to see if changes are needed, he said.

Another potential problem would be forecasting projects, but Rodenbach said he doesn’t foresee that would affect Gig Harbor.

“We’re pretty good with our forecasting ... ,” he said. “But that can be a problem.”

Jeni Woock of Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor said the move would be a serious blow to council oversight. She said the 36 other cities in the state that use the system are not a precedent but a red flag.

“There are 281 cities and towns in Washington ... it seems that 245 of these are not using biennial budgets,” she said. “Since public monies are involved, annual budget is the way to go.”

RUST STREET

In other developments, the council approved a vacation of Rust Street on the first reading, a process that requires five votes, city attorney Angela Summerfield said.

The vote was approved by all council members who attended. Council member Steve Ekberg was absent.

The vote means the city will vacate a 30-foot-wide portion of Rust Street.

In the consent agenda, the council added the Historic Ancich-Quigg netshed to the Gig Harbor Register of Historic Places.

The council will meet again at 5:30 p.m. March 24 at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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