Letters: City surplus: Do you trust the council?

An Ocean Shores Councilman asked me to explain my mistrust of the Council:

Background

Council believed there were not enough funds in the 2018 budget to continue the 2015 SAFER grant positions. Therefore, the mayor proposed an increase to the EMS service fee. Council members received the background financial information just minutes prior to the public hearing 12/11/17, providing little time to review before voting on this important rate increase. Members of the public spoke at the hearing. The 105.44$% increase passed with little discussion.

In 3/18, the mayor reported an $850,000 “surprise windfall,” created by position vacancies and higher-than-anticipated revenues. Council scheduled an 4/30 study session to explore potential uses for this money.

The draft agenda did not include the budget surplus. However, the printed agenda at the 4/23/18 meeting showed “Item 8: Discussion budget surplus.” Council amended that agenda and inserted a discussion regarding the addition of two new City positions, prior to the surplus discussion.

Council voted to amend the budget and use approximately $44,000 of the surplus for the positions. Note: the approval to use these funds was PRIOR to the discussion of HOW to use the excess funding.

During the subsequent Council discussion regarding the “windfall,” a motion passed to use $200,000 for road maintenance. A council member vigorously objected and repeatedly reminded the Council of the scheduled/publicly announced study session. She stated that public was not aware of action at this meeting as there were very few in the audience. An approved motion delayed further action until the study session.

My persepective

The finance office provides monthly financial reports to the mayor and council. To be surprised by the organization’s financial status shows a lack of financial responsibility. Yes, some revenues such as sales tax lag several months late as they process through the State, however, many of the “surprise revenues” had no lag-time. It is easy to track vacancy-caused savings. Reviewing financial statements shows there was NO surprise “windfall.” These funds were available for 2018 budgeting consideration. Some of this “surplus” could have offset part of the EMS fee increase.

Passing a large EMS fee increase to the public prior to budgeting makes the surplus funds available to spend without going through the typical budget process.

Scheduling a study session to explore potential uses of the $850K allows public input. However, to me, moving the discussion to a meeting without notice of action seems to be a way of preventing public input. Several council members obviously did not want to have the study session. When another counci member protested, she voiced she felt “bullied.” Many of us in the audience agreed with her.

I believe in transparency, public involvement and democracy. These financial manipulations are disturbing to me and now I have no trust. But that’s not important. What is important is this: Do you trust this Council?

Jacqui Austin

Ocean Shores