Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

State auditor: Port Townsend’s finances shaky

by Matt Rosenberg October 25th, 2011

A financial audit on the city of Port Townsend released Monday by the office of Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag warns elected officials and city staff that the municipality’s finances are badly eroding.

The city of 8,925 is a distinctive and historic Northwest locale about 40 miles northwest of Seattle, known for its Victorian architecture, vibrant arts community, maritime history and as a haven for vacationers and retirees.

Its annual expenditures from 2006 through 2010 have ranged from $6.4 million to $7.6 million. The audit states: “The city is at risk of not being able to meet its financial obligations,” emphasizing that:

  • The city’s cash balance declined from $258,408 in 2006 to $40,700 on August 31, 2011.
  • In three of the last five full fiscal years (2006-2010) the city has spent more than it has taken in, with deficits of $212,841 in 2006, $64,926 in 2008 and $193,888 in 2009.
  • The city’s long-term debt has grown from $14.4 million in 2006 to $21.1 million in 2010, and in 2010 the city agreed to guarantee $625,000 of the regional fire district’s debt.

The audit states that “the city’s tax revenues and financial position have worsened because of “the downturn in the economy, the temporary loss of ferry services in 2007, closure of the Hood Canal Bridge in 2009 and the ongoing stagnation of the real estate market.”

The city hasn’t cut costs enough, according to the audit. It should draft a formal written comprehensive plan to improve its financial standing and city officials should keep a closer eye on the city’s financial performance while ensuring the plan is followed, and successful.

The city replies in the audit report that its 2012 proposed budget, to be deliberated starting in late October, would cut general fund expenditures $906,000; and reduce utility expenses $800,000 by shifting engineering overhead to a capital account, “thereby stabilizing the rates and financing of the utility.” In addition, the city says a special purpose levy vote in November, if approved by local voters, would fund the city’s debt guarantee for the fire district and “remove any further diversion of income from the general fund.” Together, if adopted, these steps will allow the city to replenish its reserves, meet its obligations and “be on a solid road to recovery” in the next three to five years, the city states.

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Seattle Police memo: body cameras easier said than done, now

by Matt Rosenberg September 7th, 2011

SUMMARY: In a report to be presented Sept. 8 to a Seattle City Council committee, Seattle Police say they haven’t begun to test four body-mounted cameras on police officers as directed but that the SPD training unit has done preliminary testing of one camera. Police verified that today. The cameras would record images and sound of police interactions with the public. Police say that in the one-camera test to date, serious problems are evident with the usefulness of the video footage if officers are moving. Police also stress in their report advice from city lawyers on the need to change state law to allow audio recording of citizens without their express consent. That’s not allowed currently. Police note community concerns are another issue, reporting that various stakeholders say citizens should be asked for their consent to recordings regardless of what state law says. Field testing is planned for body cameras on motorcycle traffic officers, with prior consent of citizens required before recording. Funding of a wide-scale Seattle Police body camera pilot program also poses major challenges, police say. A sought-after federal grant has failed to materialize due to U.S. budget constraints. Additionally, the police officers labor union would have to approve widespread use of body cameras, in a new contract now being negotiated.

WSDOT: Transportation funding needs to be fixed

by Matt Rosenberg August 25th, 2011

OVERVIEW: Last year the Puget Sound Regional Council issued a landmark report titled Transportation 2040 which found that baseline surface transportation needs in the four counties in and around Seattle would require $64 billion more in toll, tax and fee funding by 2040 than the $125 billion in transportation monies already anticipated in that timeframe. Major drivers are a 36 percent increase in population in the four counties by 2040 and a 51 percent increase in jobs, according to the report. Statewide population growth in Washington is also expected to be substantial, estimated at 1 percent annually through 2030.
At a two-day meeting earlier this month of the Washington state legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee held at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., as part of a current study process on public-private partnerships, state transportation chief Paula J. Hammond sounded a warning about the limited effect and declining purchasing power of the state gas tax, versus sizable needs over coming decades for surface transportation maintenance, operations and preservation work, plus safety improvements and congestion relief projects. Hammond emphasized the important financial and policy roles she believes the federal and state governments will have to play, and identified additional current funding options as regional tolling, regional and local taxes, truck weight fees, and ferry and transit fare hikes. She concluded, “there is a risk to our transportation system performance by not investing.” However, the prospect of wider regional tolling in Central Puget Sound would be restricted significantly if voters approve Initiative 1125 in November.

Legislative audit: benefits of Washington state’s green buildings not clear

by Kyle Kim July 7th, 2011


SUMMARY: The benefits of Washington state’s push for environmentally friendlier public buildings remain unclear, according to a legislative report. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee’s High Performance Public Buildings report revealed they could not completely assess the program because state agencies and some school districts are failing to report information as required by law. Where a full year’s performance data was available by the reporting deadline, most high-performance buildings exceeded their estimated energy usage due to factors such as changes in design or equipment, difficulties in operating “new and complex energy technology,” greater than anticipated after-hours use of the buildings, and energy wasting by occupants such as covering vents. The committee recommended more time to measure performance and better agency compliance on submitting energy performance data.

State agency overpaid $13.7 million for drugs in ‘09-’10

by Matt Rosenberg May 10th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a performance audit released last week, Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries through 2010 paid an overly generous reimbursement rate to pharmacists for prescriptions of generic drugs to injured workers covered under its Workers’Compensation program. The audit finds that if L&I had paid for generics at a rate similar to other state health care agencies, it could have saved at least $13.7 million in 2009 and 2010 combined, and as much as $15.4 million. L&I lowered its generics reimbursement rate to a more comparable level in 2011; saving nearly $5 million compared to 2009. But by bringing that and its reimbursement rate for brand-name drug prescriptions into more complete alignment with the standard-setting state Health Care Authority, L&I could achieve another $1.5 million to $2.3 million in annual savings, going forward.

Seattle Owns Excess Properties Worth Roughly $81 Million

by Matt Rosenberg May 3rd, 2011

SUMMARY: A new annual report shows the City of Seattle owns 212 excess properties or groups of properties with a combined assessed value of $80.9 million. Officials stress that appraisals would be needed to better calculate market values. Twenty-two of the 212 excess properties are under review for re-use or disposal and three have been approved by the city council for sale, though none are currently on offer. The highest-valued is Seattle Public Utilities Eastside Reservoir in Bellevue, assessed at $10.8 million; the next highest is Seattle City Light’s Roy Street Shops at $9.8 million. Other high-valued excess city properties include assorted transportation facilities and electrical substations.