Final hearing for Aberdeen’s 2018 budget set for Wednesday

The city administrator role has not changed much since its inception

The public will have a final chance to suggest changes to Aberdeen’s 2018 budget at Wednesday’s city council meeting. There are few major changes from 2017’s budget, aside from the new city administrator position and several planned construction projects. The budget will be finalized during this week’s meeting after weeks of discussion.

Next year’s budget plans to have a 3.5 percent increase in 2018’s spending and revenue, which Finance Director Mike Folkers said is largely the result of an unexpected seven percent increase in sales tax revenue projected for 2017.

Despite some early concerns about the $200,000 first year allotment for expenses related to a city administrator, city council members have been passing it through at recent meetings. It’s a full time job, and would be intended to help improve communication and efficiency for all of the city’s departments.

City council member Dee Anne Shaw is on board with the city administrator position, but still would like to see more written explanation of how the job would be funded.

“I think [department heads] can be better served if we better equip the mayor, and the public would be, too,” said Shaw. “But the bottom line for me, and I’m still waiting to see it, is that it has been pretty verbal. It’s not transparent in the budget. We’ve had workshops, and I’m supportive, but I would like to see something more definitive in writing if we’re going to make this big of a change in how we conduct the public’s business.”

Folkers believes the position will be beneficial. “Right now we have a mayor who’s part time, but this would be a full time person who we could interface with, as well as the council. They (would) have a person eight hours a day who they can ask questions to and get feedback from,” said Folkers. “They can take on big projects like homelessness and mental illness.”

Another area that will see some increased spending are abandoned house abatements. Folkers said they would be putting $50,000 into an excavator vehicle, which will allow them to demolish empty houses beyond repair, and $100,000 in costs for the abatement projects. They’re aiming at tearing down 10 houses.

“They’re in a flood zone, so if they did rebuild them, they’d have to raise them up which is really cost prohibitive,” said Folkers. “And we run into asbestos a lot here, so these houses are just old enough that they have asbestos, making them dangerous. In our eyes it’s best to clean up those neighborhoods and then maybe develop them.”

The one other notable project will be to install a fence around the police station’s parking lot. Police Lt. Kevin Darst said the department asked for this over the summer after several years in which people would wander in to vandalize officers’ personal vehicles and make them feel uncomfortable.

“There have been tons of emails the past three or four years about officers seeing people hiding between cars, doing malicious stuff to our cars, putting nails in our tires,” said Darst. “The fence would keep people out of that area, so that officers walking through the parking lot can’t be ambushed, that was our main thinking.”

Mayor Erik Larson and other executives did not budget any money for the Gateway Project in 2018, with Folkers saying they hope to invest in the downtown revitalization project in future years.

Those who want to weigh in on the budget can attend Wednesday’s public hearing at 7:15 p.m. on the third floor of city hall.