Puyallup residents can rest easy knowing that their streets, their parks and overall public safety will not be negatively effected by this year’s approved budget.
Despite an operations budget increase of $2.5 million, Puyallup city officials managed to maintain a balanced budget and pay down debts — all while bringing in more employees to balance the hefty work load of city workers. The City’s total 2015 budget is $108 million, down approximately $15 million from the year prior.
“The increase in the operating budget includes $1.2 million in salaries and benefits because of cost of living adjustments, progression through the compensation plan and because we added seven net positions,” said Peggy Watson, assistant finance director. “While we eliminated a position here or there, we added several positions. The net effect was seven new positions.”
Although there was a $1.2 million increase for those seven new positions and cost of living adjustments, citizens of Puyallup will likely see a positive impact.
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“We had a police officer position that had been unfunded for the last few years, and so we funded it,” Watson said. “We had a crime prevention officer that was only part time and we made that position full time.”
The city also added a corrections officer. Other staff additions included a deputy city clerk, because public records requests were out of control, Watson said.
“We only have so much time to respond required by law so we were able to meet the deadlines, but then the city clerk’s office couldn’t get anything else done,” she said. “It impacts the public by allowing us to meet their timely requests for public records.”
Street maintenance, which gained two new positions, and the parks department will also benefit from the budget, Watson said.
In addition to adding seven new positions, $1.3 million was put into the budget for street repair and replacement.
“We’re going to be out there trying to fix some of our local streets,” Watson said.
Another new item in this year’s budget — what city officials call a traffic calming program — has been added, with the price tag of $50,000.
“That’s where you start to see those things like speed bumps and traffic circles, where it slows people down from running through neighborhoods,” Watson said about the program.
The City of Puyallup also established an annual $150,000 sidewalk link and repair system, encouraging more emphasis on building sidewalks and repairing existing ones.
“Citizens are going to see an increase in public safety, and they’re going to see an increase in their street maintenance. They’re going to see their parks continue to be maintained, and they are even going to see the opening of the splash park (at Pioneer Park) as an example,” Watson said.
The City is also continuing to pay down debt while meeting a payment schedule to comply with the city council’s budget stability policy.
“What council would like to see is projects cash funded when practical, (and) they want to see the usage of debt be reserved for necessary projects or for those that provide greater return for the interest expense,” Watson said. “The city should issue debt in small increments and on a level payment schedule.”
Since establishing the goal to reduce the city’s debt, it has dropped from more than $90 million in 2009 to $53.4 million this year. While the (total debt) number may seem high, debt is not a problem for the city, but rather an operating strategy, according to Watson.
“We can afford to pay it; we are not living above our needs,” she said.
The City’s goal of trying not to borrow means attempting to cash fund all of the city’s projects going forward.
The city doesn’t have just one loan, but several bond issues accrued over the years. As the city is paying those loans off, it is freeing up more cash for the city to spend on projects.
“The money that was going to pay these debt issues is now sitting here and can be spent on our projects,” Watson said. “This is where we’re getting to cash funding. As you can see, in 2028 we’re going to have $8 million extra a year that we can then apply toward water, sewer, storm and street projects.”
Fortunately for the city, a majority of the street projects are funded by grants, freeing up even more of the city’s budget.
“We are awfully fortunate to have those grants,” Watson said. “The city may have to fund a match here or there, but it runs somewhere between 10 to 20 percent.”