After voting one by one on a laundry list of spending additions and subtractions, the Ocean Shores City Council ultimately voted 6-1 to adopt the city’s first two-year city budget. It allows for the hiring of a new city administrator and funding for projects such as the high dunes trail and a proposal for the city’s first tsunami-evacuation structure.
Council members submitted their individual budget requests prior to Thanksgiving, and those were pared down Monday night after a final round of discussion before voting on the inaugural biennial budget document.
The council chose to provide additional funding for the Coastal Interpretive Center (CIC), additional money for road maintenance and improvements to the parks, erosion control and renovation to the north end of the Grand Canal.
City Finance Director Angela Folkers noted on Monday that all the requests, had they been approved, would have lowered the projected surplus from about $1.5 million to about $1.24 million in the general fund.
“I don’t see how this is being conservative or how it’s sustainable over the long term,” said resident Kathryn Sprigg, who noted in public comments that the additions, if approved, would have violated the Council’s stated budget principle of maintaining a $1.5 million surplus.
“I am concerned about us dropping below the $1.5 million” figure, Council member Bob Peterson acknowledged, urging the Council to work toward that goal.
In the end, the Council was able to subtract some of the budget requests, (such as funds for notebook computers for the Council, $40,000 for a city-contracted downtown shuttle bus service or more than $100,000 for golf course irrigation), modify a few others and get the projected surplus up to about $57,000 over the $1.5 million threshold.
The Interpretive Center had been awarded $15,000 out of a $60,000 request to the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, but members of the board and several volunteers implored the Council on Nov. 13 to find a way to come up with the remaining $45,000 from the city general fund, as well as a similar request to be made for 2020. The funds would be used to pay for a full-time director with salary and benefits that would be commensurate to other area non-profits. The decision on Monday was to pay the additional funds for 2019, and then have the CIC come back for 2020 to demonstrate how the funds were used and make a similar request for the following year.
Council member Steve Ensley, the city’s former director, also had suggested using a surplus of $1.6 million from the Local Improvement District administrative fund (money to pay back the 2010 road LID assessments) for a capital fund that would be available to pay for the costs of building the proposed vertical-evacuation structures for tsunami safety or other capital projects.
Jeff Daniel had requested three budget additions: the north Grand Canal restoration and clean-up ($50,000 for initial work); adding new street lights ($100,000) in areas that don’t have them with high traffic or use to improve safety and deter crime; creating a walking/bike path from the post office to North Bay Park on Duck Lake along Chance a la Mer, including a new bridge over the access canal between the upper and lower parts of the lake.
Daniel, however, requested taking the street-lighting proposal out this year to save money, as well as the Chance a la Mer project. “If we take those out of the budget, that will help” bring the surplus back up, Daniel said. Council members, however, voted to keep the funding for the Chance a la Mer proposal.
Other general fund special projects that are part of the budget include $245,000 to begin construction of the high dunes trail; $150,000 to equip the new fire engine the Fire Department secured with a federal grant; $15,000 for an improved city website and funds for preliminary design of a new city hall/police facility.
Resident Dean Rubin thanked the council in public comments: “The cooperation, collaboration and professionalism you have all shown working on this budget needs to be commended.”
Mayor Crystal Dingler also thanked the council for completing the city’s first two-year budget process and said she believes there “are a lot of good things in there and it is fiscally responsible.”
Susan Conniry, the only council member to vote against the budget, read a prepared statement that said the budget should be focused on services, and that growth should be “measured and sustainable.”
“If you approve this budget, you are living in a fantasy world that supports delusions of grandeur,” Conniry said. “ As we move forward, let’s be prudent with the people’s money.”