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City taskforce indentifies cost savings.

The city of Bellingham released a new report that identifies internal cost-saving measures, that would total more than $8 million.

The Fiscal Alternatives for Stability Taskforce (FAST) report mainly focuses on deficit-reduction ideas, although some of the ideas would increase revenue.

The taskforce included city department heads, managers, and City Council members. In November 2008, Mayor Dan Pike assembled the group to brainstorm low-cost, sustainable ideas that would reduce the city's projected $6 million budget deficit for the 2010 fiscal year, while maintaining essential services.

"The report contains many intriguing and useful ideas, and I appreciate the effort and creativity FAST members put into their research and recommendations," Pike said in a statement.

These recommendations include delaying the hiring of an executive director for the public development authority, reducing general fund subsidy of the art and children's museum, the reduction of employee benefit costs, and incorporation of the statutorily allowed 1 percent property tax levy.

David Webster, Bellingham's chief administrative officer who led the taskforce, said the group is one of many initiatives under way to help alleviate the city's budget woes.

"Unabated, this deficit is expected to mean between 50 and 75 additional staff layoffs on top of the 30 positions eliminated through other austerity measures since the summer of 2008," Webster said in a a statement.

Many of the group's ideas would have to be approved by the City Council, another jurisdiction or bargained through the city's eight employee unions before they could be instituted.

"Though most are not pain-free choices, FAST concluded that options exist to solve the budget crisis and largely avoid high numbers of layoffs if management, policymakers and labor work together for the greater good," Webster said.

Recommendations

* Delay the hiring of the public development authority executive director

* Cancel mid-2009 salary "bumps" to eligible employees, and freeze salaries and wages for all employees in 2010

* Reduce general fund subsidy of the art and children's museum

* Charge higher admission and facility use fees to people who live outside Bellingham

* Cross-staff the Bellingham Fire Department's primary ladder rig to free personnel for other duties

* Install a limited number of automated citation cameras in school zones with high levels of infractions and intersections with the most accidents due to drivers running red lights

* Place a moratorium on the purchase of "Green Power" pending exploration of less costly ways to support city sustainability goals

* Reduce city employee benefit costs, such as by using less costly insurance plans with higher deductibles

* Incorporate the statutorily allowed 1 percent property tax levy increase and the city's banked property tax capacity into the 2010 budget to avoid further service cuts.

Lance Henderson

lhenderson@thebellinghambusinessjournal.com
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Author:Henderson, Lance
Publication:Bellingham Business Journal
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:443
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