Bellingham mayoral candidate Clayton Petree has issued a press release saying the city should refocus its spending on essential services such as law enforcement. In a followup email, he called attention to the latest gruesome state revenue forecast, as featured on the Business Blog.
If that forecast is correct, the state’s $738 million budget reserve will be mostly depleted over the next two years, setting the stage for even more cuts to education and other critical state government functions.
Petree noted that the city has been spending down its own reserves while to some extent counting on an improved economy to boost revenue and get the city’s finances back on a sustainable long-term path. He thinks the latest state forecast calls that approach into question.
It’s worth noting that some of the city projects Petree is targeting have partial funding sources that could not be shifted into city programs such as the police department. The Central Avenue waterfront project, for example, would rely on street fund revenues provided by gasoline taxes, while state environmental cleanup money would cover some of the cost of the waterfront toxic site he mentions.
But Petree is correct in asserting that waterfront cleanup and redevelopment comes with hefty city costs for cleanup, streets and utilities, and city officials freely admit they have no sources of money in hand for those projects. This means the pace of process on these things may be slow.
Here is Petree’s press release:
“Referring to recently announced City of Bellingham plans and task force reports Clayton Petree,
a candidate for mayor, called on current Mayor Dan Pike to immediately begin to work with the
Bellingham City Council to reprioritize the City of Bellingham’s spending approaches.
“It appears we are simultaneously going out to bid on a multi-million dollar bridge to nowhere
even as we fail to plan for identified needs to maintain adequate public safety for the citizens of
our city,” Petree comments. “That is fiscally irresponsible and we cannot wait for an election
and a new mayoral term to begin to work on the issue.”
“According to Petree the mayor has proudly announced in recent weeks the bid process would
begin soon on building roads and bridges to Bellingham’s waterfront even as a task force report
presented to the Mayor and the City Council in February pointed to a lagging level of public
safety. “It is inappropriate to begin building additional roads to a waterfront that has no
adopted plan and a 50 year time line for build out at the same time we are ignoring an
identified need for adequate police officers. Why are we already beginning to subsidize the
waterfront “want” that isn’t projected to be complete until 2061 and ignoring the identified
police force “need” that should exist today? That makes no sense at all.”
“Petree says the two examples he points to are only the tip of the iceberg floating across the City
of Bellingham’s financial horizon. “City Finance Director Jon Carter recently presented a pretty
gloomy set of financial forecast scenarios to the Bellingham City Council. Our current practice
of deficit spending will take us below the safety threshold or completely exhaust our reserves
within a few short years. Even as we are floating in a sea of red ink, the city is spending many
thousands of dollars, fighting with the county over frivolous issues. We’ve bailed out the
owners of a contaminated waste site by agreeing to accept clean up responsibilities that put
the city ‘on the hook’ for at least $2.74 million in unfunded, already identified costs and at the
same time, the citizens are told we can’t afford seven hundred thousand dollars a year to fund
our identified need for a new police unit? What kind of approach to budgeting is that?”
“We must begin, as a city, to spend within our means,” Petree concludes. “All we have to do is
look at our unsustainable, failed State budget to see what happens when we spend on wants
instead of needs. The time to work on this issue is right now. We can’t be playing election
games as we run the ship of Bellingham aground.”
End press release