Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood has released a proposed 2021-2022 biennial budget, a “responsible and responsive” budget that reduces overall spending, supports several key initiatives, and acknowledges the need to be flexible in the year ahead to adjust to changing financial circumstances.
The Bellingham City Council will hold a series of budget work sessions beginning Monday, October 5, and continuing each Monday through mid-November. All meetings will be held via the City’s online meeting platform, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and will be available to the public.
“I am pleased to present a budget that is responsible and responsive,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “It retains a high level of service, our experienced and talented workforce, and our commitment to maintaining the City’s capital infrastructure, while taking meaningful, tangible steps toward increasing support for community members in crisis and pressing forward on our actions against climate change.”
Mayor Fleetwood said while shutdowns and other impacts from COVID-19 have greatly reduced the City’s revenues, healthy financial reserves at the onset of the pandemic have allowed the City to avoid major service disruptions and keep City employees working.
He said his proposed budget continues this approach, using reserves and some cost-cutting, but no major reduction in services. He proposes to implement employee furloughs and freeze 17 vacant positions for 2021 to help reduce expenditures.
“Our workforce is the City’s strongest and most important asset,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “They are the people who deliver a broad array of essential public services that comprise the great majority of our City budget. I have prioritized keeping our staff intact. This limits our ability to invest in some new priorities in the near term but ensures that we will be in the strongest possible position when the COVID-19 crisis has passed.”
“Our financial situation is fluid and we must be equally nimble in our approach to budgeting,” he said. “If financial conditions deteriorate, we will be compelled to make significant changes in the mid-biennium adjustment. Likewise, if conditions dramatically improve, we will have opportunities to reprioritize.”
Mayor Fleetwood highlighted several proposals contained within his budget:
Increasing support for behavioral health response
- Increasing the number of Behavioral Health Officers from one to four by shifting existing Police Officer positions.
- Doubling investment in the GRACE program by eliminating a vacant Police Officer position.
- Developing a proposal, as directed by Council, to create an unarmed 911 co-responder program.
Addressing social justice issues
- Continuing multi-million-dollar investments in housing, mental health services, domestic violence services, and other social and human services.
- Collaborating with community leaders in task force work, identifying and prioritizing steps to address systemic racism, examining practices and policies in criminal justice, and reviewing police civilian oversight models.
Increasing action on climate change
- Providing additional funding to implement Climate Action Plan recommendations.
Expanding and improving trails, parks, and open spaces
- Building the next phase of Cordata Community Park, designing the proposed Bakerview park, and making major repairs to the Civic Complex and the Bloedel-Donovan Community Building. These and other projects are greatly assisted by the support our community has provided over the years through the Greenways Levy.
Continuing investment in City infrastructure
- Continuing key investments in water, sewer and transportation infrastructure.
- Building a Parks and Public Works operations facility on Pacific Street to consolidate operations in one location.
“As a steward of the City, I have prioritized the long-term health of the City and positioned Bellingham to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with its financial stability intact and ready for the challenges of the future,” Mayor Fleetwood said. “I remain dedicated to continuing our work together to make Bellingham a hopeful and inspired model of a forward-thinking, inclusive, and sustainable city.”
The Mayor’s proposed budget anticipates a 7% reduction in revenues ($6 million) in the General Fund when compared to 2019, due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. The budget proposes $664 million in expenditures for the biennium. Of that amount, $172 million (26%) is General Fund, the remaining $492 million (74%) is restricted funds.
Budget work session schedule
The following meetings are tentative until each is announced on the City Council meetings portal.
- October 5, 2 – 5 p.m.: Budget overview; Police presentation
- October 12, 10 a.m. – Noon: Fire, Municipal Court presentations
- October 19, 1- 4 p.m.: Parks, Library, Museum, Planning presentations
- October 26, 10 a.m. – Noon: Human Resources, Finance, Information Technology, Legal presentations
- November 2, 1 – 4 p.m.: Public Works presentation
- November 9, 10 a.m. – Noon: Mayor, City Council presentations
- November 16, 1 – 4 p.m.: Follow up as needed