On Monday Oct. 6, I presented the Bellingham City Council with my
2015-2016 biennium budget proposal.
My job as Mayor is to promote community development that adds to our quality
of life, ensures public health and safety, maintains our roads and
infrastructure, encourages housing affordability and creates jobs. I feel
that this budget supports those community goals.
One of my priorities as Mayor has also been to have a balanced budget while
maintaining our level of service to the community. The budget I propose
reflects our community values to create a safe, vibrant and livable
community where all of our citizens can live, work and play.
This first biennial budget is the result of a methodical and cooperative
effort between the department head team, senior staff and myself. Through
our work with stakeholders such as the Community Solutions Workgroups, the
Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission and other boards and commissions,
my budget reflects our shared community priorities. It is also driven by
policy direction given by the City Council through adoption of the Downtown
Plan, the Economic Development Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan and our
Legacies and Strategic Commitments, among other adopted policy.
The community-oriented spending plan as outlined in my budget aims to invest
in four complementary areas:
- Public health and safety. The City’s General
Financial Management Guidelines lists ensuring public safety as a Tier
One priority. Based on feedback from the Community Solutions Workgroup
on Downtown Public Health and Safety, as well as neighborhood groups, it
is of high community interest to increase police presence in our city
center, allowing flexibility for our officers to meet neighborhood
needs. I propose adding two additional police officers dedicated to
downtown to meet those goals and to implement the community policing
model adopted by the Bellingham Police Department.
- City Center. The City Center Implementation
Strategy I am proposing outlines a suite of investments in downtown, Old
Town and the waterfront. My budget proposal includes investing in City
assets such as the Federal Building, the downtown parking structure and
Maritime Heritage Park, as well as evaluation of City-wide facilities
such as the library, City Hall, the municipal court building and the
- Social services. The City continues to
strengthen its relationships with our social service partners by
investing in a system of coordinated services. In addition to
administering existing federal and local funding, I am proposing
$345,000 in human and social service grants, for a total of
approximately $800,000. The City work-plan also includes supporting a
new mental health court and community paramedics.
- Community and economic development. My budget
envisions an emphasis on community and economic development through a
focused Planning and Community Development department that invests in
downtown, Samish Way and Old Town. Through our Comprehensive Plan update
in 2016, we will also be working with our community to plan for quality
future growth citywide. We can preserve neighborhood character while
also providing opportunities for redevelopment in areas where we have
already made investments in transportation, parks and utilities. My
budget also proposes restoring $550,000 to the street fund that was used
to fund the Bellingham Public Development Authority in 2014.
While these strategic investments position the City to take advantage of
an improving economic environment, we are still faced with significant
challenges: The first is that the City's expenses are growing faster than
our revenue, and the second is that the City is still recovering from the
economic downturn. While our $142 million general fund biennial budget is
balanced for 2015 in this proposal, we are still facing a $650,000 deficit
for 2016, which is less than half a percent of the total general fund
budget. During the supplemental budget process next year, we will continue
to analyze and evaluate our priorities, investments and expenses with the
continued goal of balancing the budget while maintaining high levels of
service to the community.
While the focus of my budget is investing in public health and safety and
community and economic development, we continue to provide our residents
with many other important programs:
- Protecting Lake Whatcom: Continued emphasis
on protecting Lake Whatcom and providing clean drinking water by
investing nearly $14 million in the biennium on watershed acquisition,
water treatment, boat inspections and other programs.
- Waterfront redevelopment: The City continues
to ensure that environmental clean-up, public access and job creation
occurs at the waterfront. We are investing funds to match the $25
million state allocation for economic development.
- Parks and recreation: We will spend $30
million over the next two years in parks acquisition, capital expenses
and maintenance and operations.
- Public amenities: We continue to maintain our
streets, develop pedestrian and bicycle networks and provide cultural
amenities like the library and museum, among many other services.
I would like to thank the City Council, our department heads, staff and
our community for setting policies and goals and helping to guide the
priorities in my budget proposal. I look forward to working in the upcoming
months to define a budget that pursues our collective vision for a vibrant