City spending cuts are harsh reality of Great Recession

The proposed city budget calls for more cuts and a slight tax increase to balance spending and revenues.


After four years of a recession that’s pounded local and state governments dependent on sales tax like the relentless surf on a sandy cliff, erosion has taken a toll.

This was evident last week as Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa conducted a public work session on the city’s 2013-2014 budget. Cuts in spending have to be made, and none of the choices are easy. In addition, city property taxes could be going up about $18 a year for a $150,000 house if the city dips into its banked levy capacity as proposed.

This year the general fund budget is $24.9 million. It would go up slightly to about $25 million next year and in 2014. But costs, including salaries mandated by contracts and health insurance, are going up at a much higher rate.

In his preliminary budget, Shawa said the plan is to cut one police officer, one fire prevention officer and close the Pioneer Park Aviary.

But the city government, in keeping its promise to increase street repair, will spend about $500,000 each of the next two years for street work.

The public will have an opportunity to discuss these and other budget proposals as the City Council makes the final decision on what is — and is not — funded.

Four years ago the idea of these kind of cuts coupled with even a small tax increase would not have been considered. Now, it’s painfully tolerated as the new, harsh reality of the Great Recession.

Shawa said the cut in the Police Department will come by not filling a vacancy. This will bring the number of commissioned officers to 41 — down four from 2010. At the Fire Department, one of the two fire-prevention officers will be cut, saving the city $105,000.

Losing personnel in the police and fire departments is clearly a concern. Yet, the tax revenue has gone flat, leaving the city with only lousy choices.

One of the most politically sensitive choices for elimination is the Pioneer Park Aviary. It was on the chopping block in the past but was temporarily saved when concerned citizens raised private funds to keep it open.

Shawa said the Aviary was targeted for closure because it was ranked lowest in a survey of residents. When asked to rate the importance of everything from police to library service to bike lanes to drinking water. Of the 20 services included in the rating, the Pioneer Park Aviary was at the bottom of the list.

The city will garner a savings of $55,000 by closing the Aviary. In the scope of the city budget it is not much. But at this point, after cuts on top of cuts, those $50,000 expenses really start to add up.

We hate the idea of closing the Aviary. It adds personality and charm to Pioneer Park and is an asset to the region.

Perhaps a civic group will step forward with a plan for ongoing funding or maybe one generous donor might appear to save the day. If not, it looks like the Aviary will be a memory sometime next year.

The proposed cuts and the tax increase aren’t putting smiles on faces. It’s simply what city leaders must do absent better solutions.



wallyworldguy says...

That makes cents to me, lay off police or firemen so the already over paid city employees can get their raises.
Why would any one in the public sector be getting a raise with this city so far in the hole. It is time to get rid of the unions and all of the city administrators who support them.
As for the insurance premiums, they can start letting the employees pick up the increase. That is what happens in the private sector all the time every time.

Posted 10 November 2012, 7:45 p.m. Suggest removal

marketinsider says...

We just had a national election where citizens are told to vote so they will he heard. The voters, vote in the same President, the same Congress, and the same Senate. Why, because things are getting better. For example, consumer confidence was just reported last week to be 85, which is a 5 year high (one may ask why is consumer confidence at a 5 year high, first it does not look at debt, of course if you borrow $5.5 trillion and throw it at the economy things are bound to feel better, furthermore, three things that are very important to consumers are jobs and there is hiring, gas prices, they are falling for now, and home prices, they are rising for now). This editorial stresses the fact that the reason we have these budget problems is because of the Great Recession. According to the NBR (National Bureau of Economic Research), who determines when recessions begin and end, said that the Great Recession ended in the Summer of 2009 and the U-B supports this belief, meaning, the U-B is not stressing the fact, in general, that the economy actually, when you factor in all the excess debt and government stimulus, isn't doing very good at all. My point is that the U-B will take the position that the economy is doing better, but when it comes to local government, it only takes them a millisecond to change their position and remind us all about the Great Recession, and why, to give the perfect excuse to local government for their budget problems. We all know about the Great Recession, and we all wished we could use it as the excuse to force our bosses to raise our wages and force retailers to drop their prices, but unfortunately, we can't, we have to either, literally take on a second job or cut spending, and I'm talking about the makers not the takers.

Posted 11 November 2012, 9:34 a.m. Suggest removal

marketinsider says...

Just to let readers know, recessions occur, on average, every 5 years. Depressions occur, on average every 70 years (we are due, the last one was about 70 years ago). The "business cycle," consists of expansions and contractions of the GDP. Anybody spending $millions, $billions, and $trillions of other people's money should be keenly aware of the business cycle and plan ahead. Instead, many of these people, even though they are aware of the business cycle, spend money like there is no tomorrow. And then when a recession or depression comes, get ready for the excuses. It is as old as the hills and twice as dusty. Also, the only productive way of dealing with a budget crisis after the recession is here (the sensible way is to plan ahead and be prepared, the Boy Scouts teaches 12 year olds to plan ahead, but voters don't expect politicians to), is to increase business activity and therefore jobs and tax revenues. Yes, government can tax and borrow, but the truth is you don't know if the taxing will actually raise revenue because if people are paying more in taxes they may not be spending more in the local community, and as far as borrowing, there is the interest expense and if the debt gets out of control interest rates can rise rapidly like in Greece and the situation gets much worse (meaning, borrowing is not a win, win outcome). Even spending cuts can be a negative thing if the cuts come from a productive part of government, I know that is hard to imagine. It is interesting how this editorial talks about cutting spending, which may be the way to go, and raising taxes, which most likely won't be an overall good thing for WW, yes it helps the government, but hurts the private sector. The win-win things, which are to bring in more business, stimulate local business, get more efficiency from government, meaning to get more output with less money, are not even mentioned in the editorial.

Posted 11 November 2012, 10:05 a.m. Suggest removal

ImJustSayin says...

Marketinsider......2 things:

1. You lose people with your long "War and Peace" size posts.

2. The economy is getting better only in the fact that when you hit rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. This administration has nothing to do with the rebound as their regulations don't promote growth.

Posted 12 November 2012, 8:37 a.m. Suggest removal

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