City biennium budget invests in community development

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 … Read more

Oct 07, 2014 - by Mayor Kelli Linville

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
    museum.
  • 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
community.

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