City approves recommendations to modify budget cycle, strategic plan

By Stefanie Donahue

The city of Blaine is gearing up for one of its most crucial budgeting years to date.

During a recent meeting, Blaine City Council unanimously voted to accept three recommendations issued by the city’s finance committee that would make updates to the strategic plan, alter the city’s approach to budgeting and modify the budgeting cycle from an annual to a biennial budget.

Blaine’s strategic plan helps guide city budgeting and planning. It was most recently modified by the city council in 2012. The update will be informed by recommendations from the public as well as the city’s short-term revenue task force, which was created to help identify ways to fund city services.

In late June, the council approved a series of recommendations from the task force, which urged the city to maintain general fund revenue, avoid Business and Occupancy and utility taxes, initiate an aggressive economic development program, enhance the city’s web presence and ultimately bolster efforts to make Blaine a more attractive place for business.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, costs of services in Blaine have risen higher than available revenue, according to a May report from the city. Despite passing financial and accountability audits from the state, Blaine is currently funding daily operations with reserves. As a result, the city has cut administrative positions, limited city hall hours and has deferred maintenance and capital improvements to public facilities due to lack of funding. Public safety has also taken a hit, with hours for police patrols, traffic enforcement, criminal investigation and crime prevention all on the decline.

By late August, the city plans to host a workshop so the public can also help shape the strategic plan update. The strategic plan will eventually help guide the 2018 budget and the first biennial budget of 2019.

Starting with the the 2018 budget, the plans to take a zero-based approach to budgeting – meaning, all expenses are reevaluated and justified each budget period – starting in 2018. The city will require that each item included in the budget is reviewed for redundancy, priority and clarity as opposed to developing budgets incrementally from the previous year.

“A zero-based budget can be beneficial in that it relates costs back to the mission and goals of the department and the city as a whole,” read a staff report from the city. “It helps to allocate funds based on priorities established by the city’s strategic plan.”

The city is also slated to shift from an annual to a biennium budget, which is a fairly common move for small cities in Washington. City staff expect the change will provide more time to plan and execute projects.

By law, the city council must approve modifications by ordinance during the 2018 budget process. If it’s passed, they’ll begin preparing the first biennial budget to start in January 2019.

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