City runs a lean budget report finds
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
January 30, 2013 · Updated 10:39 AM
A group of Covington residents culminated nine months of work with a series of recommendations for the City Council.
Covington’s Budget Priorities Advisory Committee presented its report to the council at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The committee determined, the report stated, “Covington is a very well run city with an excellent ‘corporate culture.’”
The BPAC members poured over the budget of each city department and found Covington runs “lean and mean,” according to the report, “and the stereotype of ‘big government’ couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Many of the concerns members of BPAC had going into the process had been addressed by city staff, the report said, during cost-cutting measures that came as Covington dealt with the impacts of the recession.
“The fact the city has performed relatively well given those challenges could be a double-edged sword,” the report said. “Often with an expectation of similar future performances without consideration of the stress and toll exacted.”
During the process, which began in February 2012, the BPAC learned a tremendous amount of information about how city government works as it developed a consensus in order to deliver the report.
In BPAC’s report there were specific recommendations regarding the city’s police services contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office and the parks fund as well as potential new revenue streams — cutting costs or budgets did not seem feasible given how much the city has tightened its belt during the past four years — to help provide cash for proposed projects and positions.
When it came to the city’s police contract, the committee endorsed the current contract but suggested some recommendations to enhance and complement existing services such as implementing a police volunteer program, funding a civilian educator position to address the perception of crime in the city and develop relationships with businesses, schools and other community groups as well as a suggestion to explore the idea of sharing a directed enforcement officer with Maple Valley. This position would be proactive, analyzing cases handled by both cities to find trends then searching for root causes, as well as developing a strategy for addressing recurring issues.
As for the parks fund, the committee had specific recommendations for Covington Community Park and the Covington Aquatic Center. Both, the committee report said, needed greater marketing and community awareness.
“We are especially interested in the development of Covington Community Park and marketing that park as a community gathering point,” the report said. “Many on the … committee feel Covington does not have within the city a physical place to anchor a community identity on — the feeling is that Covington is mainly a highway separating several unremarkable strip malls. We believe that Covington Community Park has good potential to become that community identity point that the city is lacking and currently seeking.”
The BPAC report recommended the city complete all three phases of the park — phase one is nearly complete — as quickly as possible. The committee, however, recognized that given current funding and revenue levels it would be impossible to do so at this time.
To help pay for the completion of the park, BPAC made three recommendations: create a metropolitan parks district in three or four years, sell naming rights for the park or the field to a business either on a one-time or ongoing basis and third, partner with service clubs to promote or fundraise for the park.
Some members of the committee, however, suggested the residents made it clear when they voted against a parks taxing district in 2006 that parks were not a priority to the point additional taxes should be levied to pay for them.
On the topic of the Aquatic Center, while the committee felt it’s a community asset, BPAC recommended the city find a way to spend less on the pool whether that be through selling naming rights, changing its fee structure, partnering with another entity such as the YMCA or funding it through a parks district.
A smaller group of committee members suggested turning the management of the pool entirely over to a nonprofit such as the YMCA.
Beyond those specific items, the committee members proposed some mechanisms to increase cash flow into the city’s coffers such as a transportation benefit district, which BPAC supported unanimously according to the report.
A TBD, the report said, would go to the voters. If approved it would be funded by a 0.2 percent increase in sales tax, from 8.6 percent to 8.8 percent, which could raise as much as $600,000 for the city’s street fund which would not be paid exclusively by Covington residents.
According to the report, BPAC did not suggest raising the city’s levy lid lift because the committee “believes the city’s lid lift difference should be held for future critical priorities.”
Among the final recommendations of BPAC was its suggestion Covington hire a marketing professional who could help departments and commissions find ways to better promote and fund their respective efforts.
“In just about every BPAC discussion, regardless of city department or service, there was strong desire for a marketing person to create synergy and to promote city services and amenities,” the report said. “There is much possibility in Covington and we strongly feel that a marketing-savvy individual would be a catalyst for expansion and propelling forward some of the positive changes Covington’s citizens have been wishing and waiting for.”
BPAC was formed after the Covington City Council adopted a charter Sept. 13, 2011, as part of the city’s efforts to be create greater engagement with residents.
Covington’s management team discussed the public engagement process at its retreat in March 2011 and came up with outcomes to help guide the development of the process.
Through public engagement, the city wanted to help the community become educated about and connected to mandated as well as discretionary services and the role of its town center.
In addition, the management team felt it was important to be able to convey a clear sense of the community’s priorities for the city’s existing revenue as well as new revenue.
There were 15 members who regularly attended BPAC committee meetings. The committee met twice a month. It was made up of high school students, retirees and professionals, and those who had a variety of political views, the report stated.
Covington Finance Director Rob Hendrickson wrote in an email that the committee’s chair, Ed Cook, presented the report to the City Council which then discussed it in depth at its retreat Jan. 26 at Real Life Church in Covington.
“The comments I heard were that (the council was) very happy with the content of the report and appreciated the time and effort that went into creating it,” Hendrickson wrote. “The recommendation they all agreed on was asking staff to move ahead with a plan to create a TBD.”
Department heads looked over BPAC’s report and discussed the council’s comments at a meeting Tuesday.
Hendrickson wrote that the management team would determine next steps from there.
Ultimately, the report recommended BPAC continue on in some form, in part to help educate residents about city finance and government, learn from experiences of other residents, and work with other committees.
“The city invested a lot of time with BPAC and we really appreciate it,” the report said. “There wasn’t anybody who walked away from the experience without learning something about city government and city finances.”
Reach Assistant Editor Kris Hill at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5054.
Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.