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Bremerton mixes layoffs and property tax increase to balance 2012 budget

With Band-Aid fixes and budget patches all used up, the City of Bremerton says it has little choice but to raise property taxes and lay off more than two dozen workers in an effort to send a balanced budget to City Council for action before an early December vote and adoption.

Monday, notices were sent to 25 city employees that are expected to be laid off if the council approves the 2012 budget unveiled by Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent Wednesday evening during a city council study session on the matter.

Eight additional positions will go unfilled to combine for a savings on 32 city workers positions.

The 2012 proposed budget includes a recommendation, by city staff, that the current property tax rate be raised by 1 percent, the maximum allowable.  Its balance relies on the increase.

Combined with layoffs, the property tax increase is expected to largely cover the budget gap.

The proposed budget document was not released to the public before the council had the chance to read and consider Wednesday, which happened after deadline for this paper.  The budget was expected to be available online by Thursday afternoon.

Since last month’s discussion on what was an expected budget shortfall of $2.7 million,  city departments found $600,000 in savings and reduced next year’s expected shortfall to $2.1 million, said Becky Hasart, director of Financial Services who helped prepare the budget document.

Not every city department will lose employees, but cuts were required across the board.

Some of the shortfall comes from pay increases required under union contracts. For example the City’s contract with Teamsters Local 589 requires a 2.5 percent increase in base pay when a city employee moves up one grade step for longevity or merit based reasons, Hasart said.

“We value our employees and contracts,” Hasart said.

As the city’s main revenue sources of property, sales and B&O taxes remain flat or dry up, Hasart said the city cannot promise that more layoffs will not come in 2012 or 2013.

The city is confident in its revenue projections, which Hasart described as “conservative,” as a basis which will hold up over time, but that the closure of a single major employer could upset the budget.

“This is a budget that looks at the true personnel and benefits costs with very little wiggle room,” said Hasart.

With an expected $2.6 million end of fund balance carryover from this year’s budget and $118,000 in the city’s  reserve fund, Hasart said the city is looking to build its reserve buffer to $8.5 million. The proposed 2012 budget includes nearly $1 million to that cause, she said.

The city of Bremerton will hold workshop on the proposed 2012 budget on Nov. 1, and a public hearing on the matter on Nov. 16. during its regular Wednesday meeting.

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