Council passes 2019 budget

Fire agreements and legal counsel spending dominate discussion
By Brandon Gustafson | Dec 19, 2018

After months of presentations and more than a month of deliberation, the Mukilteo City Council passed its final budget for 2019.

The city of Mukilteo’s total budget is nearly $49 million, according to the city’s budget book.

Discussions on city spending occur throughout the year through various presentations from city employees, but the actual final budget adoption process began Nov. 5.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson presented the council with a proposed budget in October, and the goal was to have it passed Nov. 13 or Nov. 14, but due to disagreements and council travel, it took roughly a month longer than planned.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, Councilmember Scott Whelpley was out of town, and the adoption was postponed until Dec. 3.

At that meeting, Councilmember Sarah Kneller was absent, and despite having four of seven councilmembers in favor of passing the budget that day, a majority-plus one, or five votes, was needed to pass the budget, so it was again postponed this time until Dec. 17.

Councilmembers went through many line items in the budget and chose areas that they felt needed to be either increased or decreased, and when a majority agreed on a number, that amount was approved.

Many areas were cut, including employee and council travel and training for various apartments, among other areas.

At Monday’s meeting, three topics were discussed at length before the final budget was approved: interlocal agreements (ILA) with South County Fire, $30,000 allocated for outside legal counsel for allegations of misappropriate spending by Gregerson, and the setting aside of money for councilmembers to receive iPads to assist with their work.

ILAs with South County Fire

Many councilmembers have made it clear that they want to save money in the Mukilteo Fire Department, and one thing that came up repeatedly in the budgetary process was the ILA with South County Fire.

Currently, Mukilteo has agreements for a ladder truck and a battalion chief, and a second agreement for a medical service officer.

Whelpley has been adamant that the ladder truck and battalion chief ILA is unnecessary because they are very rarely called into town, and the city is paying more than $100,000 for it.

Whelpley made a motion Dec. 3 to alert South County Fire that the city intended to terminate its agreement as soon as possible. His motion passed unanimously.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, Councilmembers Richard Emery, Bob Champion and Kneller wanted to see the money for the ILA in the 2019 budget because the city will likely be paying for that service through Dec. 1, 2019.

That amount had initially been taken out of the budget, and the plan was for a budget amendment every time the city had to pay South County Fire.

“We’re not budgeting for a contractual agreement,” Emery said.

Whelpley said he was comfortable with putting the money back in the budget, but noted that he wanted to see how often that truck and battalion chief are called into the city each time that the city pays them.

Champion also wanted to put money from the medical service officer ILA back into the budget as well, as the city had yet to formally say it wanted to terminate that agreement.

Eventually, an amendment was passed to put those two amounts back into the 2019 budget, with the agreement that if the city is able to get out of either agreement, any savings would go into the city’s equipment replacement fund.

 

More legal counsel talk

Gregerson’s alleged misspending of city dollars was again a topic of debate, as Emery, Kneller, and Champion were uncomfortable with $30,000 budgeted for outside legal counsel for the Mukilteo City Council.

The council had previously budgeted $10,000 in 2018 for the legal services, and budgeted up to $30,000 in 2019 for the legal fees, as well.

At the Dec. 3 meeting, the City Council approved a contract with Kenyon Disend, LLC, to review contracts signed off by Gregerson that many councilmembers believe went against city policy and state legal codes.

Emery again noted that budgeting for legal fees was “premature,” as the council had yet to hear the reports from the state auditor’s office, which is reviewing the city’s finances. The City Council has also yet to hear back from as the state attorney general’s office, which is reviewing the matter at the request of the auditor’s office.

Champion agreed with Emery.

“I want to see the auditor’s report,” he said.

Whelpley told the other three councilmembers that he budged on the fire ILAs, and that the legal services were a necessity.

“This (the findings) is going to be worse than we think it is,” he said. “I’m not budging (on budgeting for legal counsel).”

Councilmember Anna Rohrbough sided with Whelpley, and told her fellow councilmembers that in passing a budget, they all don’t always get what they want.

Council President Steve Schmalz felt Emery, Kneller and Champion were holding up the budgetary process over this.

“If we have to go later this week, I’ll do it,” he said. “We’re putting our staff in danger by not doing this.”

Schmalz also noted that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is an elected official, and has endorsed Gregerson in the past. He also said Ferguson’s opinion isn’t the final decision.

“It’s one attorney’s opinion,” he said. “He’s not a judge.”

Finance Director Michelle Meyer told councilmembers that if some of the $30,000 budgeted is not spent, it can be used in other ways.

Ultimately, a motion was passed where excess funds would go into the city’s equipment replacement fund. The council budgeted over $180,000 into the equipment replacement fund in the 2019 budget.

Soon after, the final budget passed 6-1, with Champion the only vote against.

This was the final Mukilteo City Council meeting for 2018; members will next meet Jan. 7, where they will vote on next year’s council president and vice president.

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