At what price, progress?

By Rebecca Carr | Feb 24, 2010
We’re happy the new community center is finally taking shape. We’re encouraged by the rapid pace of construction and the sights and sounds of equipment signaling progress at the site.

However, we’re reeling from sticker shock at the numbers Recreation and Cultural Services Manager Jennifer Berner presented to Mukilteo City Council at Monday’s work session.

Berner proposes increasing community center and recreation department staff from its current two fulltime employees (including Berner) to five full timers, three part timers and a custodian.

If approved as presented, the payroll will total $387,900 in salaries and $137,737 in benefits for an annual $525,637 bite.  Add in supplies and other operating expenses and we’re at $747,186 in annual operating costs.

And that’s on top of the approximately $800,000 per year for the next 20 years to pay off the construction bonds.
We have the highest respect for Ms. Berner and her overworked assistant, Stephanie Cangie. We do see a need for increased staffing as the recreation department grows by leaps and bounds.

But we’re concerned with the cost vs. revenue picture as presented, and this scenario assumes collecting 100 percent of potential income, which would require every class and event, of every hour and every day to be at full capacity.

Talk about rose-colored glasses, particularly in this economy.

We increasingly ask our city staff to do more with less. While we have ramped up considerably since the lean years of the mid 90s when Mukilteo fought its way back from the brink of bankruptcy, our staff is still among the leanest for cities of comparable size and scope.

Nonpublic safety employees won’t see raises in 2010, and our reserve firefighters’ pay was eliminated entirely.

This last budget cycle each department – including those in public safety – was asked to cut out 10 percent of its expenses across the board. We think it’s only fair to ask the same of the recreation department.

Let’s start with the salaries. Berner proposes a recreation manager and a facilities manager in addition to her. While we don’t question how hard she works, perhaps those three positions could be condensed to two?

We also think $50,000 a year plus benefits – times two in this proposal – is a bit steep for front counter workers when degreed professionals are scrambling for work and taking jobs for which they’re overqualified, just to pay the bills.

Add three part time customer service assistants and a custodian and we’re looking at a pretty beefy staff for Mukilteo’s standards.

We also take issue with the loose use of the term “revenue.”  Monday’s proposal estimates $697,353 in proposed revenue compared to $747,186 in proposed expenses. However, more than half of that “revenue” is a $390,000 transfer from the general fund, an increase of $140,000 over what was budgeted for 2010. Crediting the community center for bringing in that money when it already came directly from our pockets into the city’s coffers is disingenuous at best.

Taxpayers don’t care which funds their money moves between; they count the dollars leaving their wallets.

Expenses include $1200 for various clothing items, specifically jackets, polo shirts, sweatshirts and T-shirts – does each employee need a complete wardrobe?

The budget allows $2500 for motor fuel, assuming the rec department acquires a van, but doesn’t show how much the van will cost or where we’ll find that money.

Assuming $3 per gallon for gas, and 20 miles per gallon fuel efficiency, that’s 354 miles each for the proposed 47 weeks of operation in 2011 (closed one week for annual maintenance and four weeks for the big move), or just less than 60 miles per day.
Are those trips really necessary?

We’re pleased with the rapid progress of building the community center and the recreation department. We’re less impressed with the speed at which our tax dollars are flying out the window.

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