A week after asserting that the firefighters union was “whining” for money it didn’t need, Bellevue City Councilman Pat Shannon is proposing that the city issue $10 million in public safety bonds to address the city’s budgetary woes.
“We desperately need this,” he said Friday afternoon.
But Fire Chief Perry Guido and City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli say the bond issue wouldn’t address the long-term budgetary woes facing the department.
“The bottom line is we have to identify a revenue stream because it’s just going to get worse,” Guido said. “The bond isn’t a revenue stream.”
In the city’s proposed 2018-19 budget, the Fire Department faces cuts that the firefighters union said could double response times and “reduce fire safety protection for both firefighters and citizens.” The union issued a statement Aug. 15 opposing the $77.4 million spending plan and calling on the council to amend it.
Shannon’s bond proposal would allow the city to purchase up to $10 million worth of new equipment — $8 million for the Fire Department and $2 million for the Police Department. The idea is that the bonds would cover the equipment costs and free up those funds for operations costs.
The bond issue would go before voters in November, according to the council resolution. The council will consider Shannon’s proposal at a meeting Monday night. But it wasn’t clear Friday evening whether a vote of the people or just a vote of the council was legally required to approve the bond issue. City Attorney Pat Sullivan said he hadn’t yet gone over the proposal with bond counsel.
Shannon said if the bond issue doesn’t need to go on the ballot, he would be willing to put it before just the council for approval.
The cost to the public would $30 per $100,000 of assessed value per year for 15 years, according to the council resolution. “I think we can all afford this for public safety,” Shannon said.
The council also could set up an equipment replacement fund “so we never have to go through this again,” he said.
Guido said equipment was only part of the problem.
“The long-term issue ... is how do we sustain,” he said, “and how do we get a sustainable revenue to build the Fire Department and to keep it operating at a level that the citizens have come to expect?”
Shannon’s bond proposal comes after the City Council declined to find another revenue stream this year.
Mangiamelli said the bond proposal was a “knee-jerk reaction to a much bigger problem.” He also said putting the bond issue in front of voters without any research on its potential for success is risky and would have long-term effects.
“If it should go to the voters, and it does not pass, it could be very harmful to future, more well-thought-out and planned voter initiatives,” he said.
The budget as proposed would mean that the department would reduce daily staffing from 16 firefighters to 12 firefighters. The department also would need to reduce the hours of part-time firefighters, a move that may eliminate up to 30 positions, the union said.
The budget also calls for several vacant positions to be eliminated elsewhere in the city, including an assistant city administrator, an assistant public works director and five police officer positions.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the budget at a hearing Monday night.
The “difficult” budget process, as Mangiamelli wrote in a memo to the council, was a long time coming. During a strategic planning session late last year, the council was informed that it would need to find another source of revenue — possibly a restaurant tax — to make ends meet in the 2018-19 budget. The council adopted a strategic plan that indicated a willingness to pursue that restaurant tax, or other revenue options, in the coming budget preparations.
But when April rolled around and work on the budget began, the council opted to forgo finding a new source of revenue. The proposed budget leaves the property tax levy flat — 61 cents per $100 of valuation. Property owners whose valuations increased this year will still see a higher bill.
In a statement from the city issued Aug. 16, the city administration and Mayor Rita Sanders expressed frustration with the council’s decision.
“We have attempted to bring attention to the lack of resources available to operate the (fire) department with necessary staffing and equipment replacements to help grow the department to a level meeting the community’s needs,” it said.
Shannon, in particular, was ardently opposed to finding another revenue stream for the Fire Department.
“There is no problem,” he told The World-Herald on Aug. 16. “This is just them whining and crying and wanting more.”
At the same time, Shannon was advocating for the budget to include an additional $6,000 pay increase for council members and the mayor. The request to include it in the budget, Shannon said, was so they would have the option to discuss a raise later this year, not that they would automatically get the money.
That request, sent July 31, came too late to be included in the budget, Mangiamelli said.