Black Diamond City Council approves 2017 budget

Black Diamond residents are probably sighing in relief, as their City Council passed a budget last week to fund the city for the rest of the year.

Approving the budget on March 2 both averts a city shutdown – which would have affected water, sewer, fire and police services – as well as another potential Oakpointe lawsuit.

Up until last week, the city was battling over two budgets.

One, dubbed Mayor Carol Benson’s budget, was the budget the city was developing since summer 2016.

The other was a collection of budget amendments submitted by Councilman Brian Weber at the end of the budget-approving process in December.

Weber’s budget was criticized by Benson and city Financial Director May Miller as being unbalanced, and Oakpointe claimed it would violate the developer’s legally-binding development and funding agreements for its two projects in Black Diamond.

The fighting over the budget led to the city approving Benson’s budget for three months on Dec. 27, 2016, so additional discussion could be held over which budget the city would go with for the remainder of the year.

Compromise was slow in coming, but by the March 2 meeting, it appeared some common ground was found and some of Weber’s amendments were added to Benson’s budget.

There was only one amendment that affected city dollars made to Benson’s budget: an additional $50,000 in revenue and expenditures in Black Diamond’s General Government Capitol Fund to provide funds for finishing the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is now more than a year late in being submitted to the county.

The extra $50,000 to this fund comes from the city’s beginning fund balance, Miller said at the meeting, explaining the extra funds are coming from some unexpected real estate excise taxes the city collected at the beginning of the year.

Another amendment created a designated contingency account which siphoned off $226,112 from the city’s $886,291 undesignated contingency account, Miller said in a later interview. This just moves money from one account to another, and doesn’t affect the budget’s overall total, she said.

Other amendments include not decreasing ending fund balances except with council approval, not increasing the city’s full time employee (FTE) levels without council approval, and all collective bargaining changes to the budget are subject to council approval as a supplemental budget ordinance.

RFP FOR LEGAL REPRESENTATION

There were several other stipulations council members Pat Pepper, Erika Morgan and Weber wanted Benson to concede before the council passed her budget, but only one was finally agreed on – sending out a request for proposals for a new city attorney.

Since January 2016, the Black Diamond City Council has gone through a number of city attorneys.

The first was Carol Morris, who was the city’s attorney when Pepper and Weber were sworn onto the council after the Nov. 2015 election.

Attorney Yvonne Ward was hired by Benson on April 27 as an interim city attorney, but her contract was never approved by the council.

According to the Black Diamond Municipal Code, the mayor can approve $15,000 or less contracts without council approval.

Ward ended her second stint as the city’s interim legal counsel on June 2, and Benson hired David Linehan from the Kenyon Disend firm to serve as the city’s legal counsel until a more permanent contract was established.

The council did not approve Linehan’s contract and instead attempted to hire Vancil Law Offices on July 7.

Benson flatly stated she would not pay Vancil for their services and denied the contract.

Since then, Linehan has remained the interim city attorney, paid for with Benson’s contracting powers.

But with the city having put out another RFP last Friday, his days at the city may be numbered – although he didn’t seem altogether shaken by the news.

“I’ll just repeat that both I and my partner, Mike Kenyon, have said: We are happy to step aside, as soon as the mayor and the council find a lawyer they can agree with,” Linehan said at the March 2 meeting, and at multiple meeting before.

Pepper, Morgan and Weber also suggested that Benson should sign an ordinance that would rewrite her contracting powers before a budget was passed.

Morgan said the ordinance should completely cut off Benson’s contracting power.

Weber suggested the ordinance should limit Benson to approving one $15,000 or less contract.

Miller said these ideas would tie up council even more than it currently is.

“We have many things that are $30 that require a small contract,” she said. “I cannot imagine how many meetings, or how many how long a meeting would be if every single contract that comes before the city came before you.”

Benson added that interfering with her contracting powers would violate the recent ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Janet Helson.

Helson ruled on Feb. 3 that the City Council cannot interfere with Benson’s defense of the city during litigation of Oakpointe’s Open Public Meeting Act lawsuit.

Weber pulled his support for limiting Benson’s contracting powers “on good faith” that the city will send out an RFP and a new city attorney will be hired.

Neither Morgan’s nor Weber’s proposed ordinances had a draft ready at the March 2 meeting.