Council agrees to retain tourism director position, fund other programs

Published on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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The city of Blaine will be able to keep its toursim director after all. 

Funding for the position, which is currently held by Debbie Harger, was set to end after this month, but several members of the community stressed the importance of Harger’s role in reaching out to new businesses and organizing community events such as Drayton Harbor Days and the Fourth of July festivities. 

City manager Dave Wilbrecht pointed out that eliminating Harger’s position would be equivalent to eliminating those events.

“It’s important to know that if the position gets cut, we won’t absorb the cost of coordinating those events and they just won’t happen,” he said.

After taking into account the testimony from citizens and Wilbrecht’s recommendation, Blaine City Council members agreed to continue to fund the community and tourism development coordinator’s position through the end of the year at their August 26 meeting, as they reviewed and made amendements to the 2013 budget. 

The council agreed to allocate $30,000 of the city’s general fund revenue to fund the salary and benefits of the position through the end of the year. They also agreed to spend $900 to extend the Visitor’s Information Center’s (VIC) lease through December, which was set to expire at the end of November.

As part of the mid-year budget review, Wilbrecht read a report prepared by city finance director Jeffrey Lazenby, who was not present at the meeting. 

According to Lazenby’s report, the general fund’s ending balance is forecasted to be $402,555. This figure is $152,555 above the target balance of $250,000, which the report attributed to higher than expected sales tax revenue from retail sales and court revenue.

“We’ve have a higher revenue experience and a lower expenditure experience than we expected,” Wilbrecht said.

The decision on what to do with that extra $152,555 was the focus of the council’s discussion. 

Wilbrecht submitted a list of suggested items, including $30,000 to fund the community and tourism development coordinator’s position, $900 to lease the VIC, $5,000 to clean the old city hall and $15,000 for a reclassification study that would determine, among other things, what level of pay would be competitive enough to attract new police officers. 

Two police officers on the city payroll are currently in training, and will join the force within the coming year. A third officer will be hired as a school resource officer, and the school district has agreed to contribute up to half of that officer’s salary, or around $20,000, to have that officer on campus half time. 

Chief Mike Haslip said those three officers are highly needed, as the department has “eliminated just about every program we can eliminate and reduced just about everything we can reduce,” in the face of budget cuts since the economic downturn in 2009.

With the three new officers, “we’re getting our staffing back up to a minimal level,” Haslip said. “I’m hoping that once we get these people back we will begin to get back some of those programs we’ve been missing.” Those programs include community outreach initiatives such as showing new mothers how to properly install infant car seats, but also basic necessities such as allowing officers to respond to every call and allowing more than one officer to cover a crime scene.

In the past, Blaine has struggled to retain officers with competitive pay, which is why the pay study was added to the reclassification study.

Wilbrecht recommended putting another $15,000 from the remaining $101,100 into a contingency fund that would allow the council “a little capacity to make quick decisions as the year progresses,” he said, with the remainder going into the general reserve fund.

The council agreed to fund Wilbrecht’s suggested items, but councilman Paul Greenough said he thought all of the remaining $101,100 should go into the reserve fund, reasoning that the move would make it harder for the council to spend that money. Mayor Harry Robinson said he thought it should remain in the general fund with the understanding that it would be added to the reserve fund at the end of the year.

Councilmember Bonnie Onyon suggested a compromise of adding $50,000 to the reserve fund and placing the remaining $51,100 into a contingency fund. Robinson said he would support that motion, but stressed that the council should strive not to spend that money so that it could be added to the reserve fund at year’s end. 

The council supported Onyon’s motion 5–1, with councilman Greenough opposed.