Snoqualmie moves to two-year budget cycle
July 5, 2012
By Michele Mihalovich
When Snoqualmie begins crunching numbers for the budgeting process later this year, the council and staff will balance budgets for two years rather than just one.
The City Council decided June 25 to go to a biennial budget process, something the state has allowed since 1984.
Finance Director Rob Orton contacted Auburn, Sammamish and Woodinville, three cities that currently utilize biennium budgets.
He pointed out to the council that those cities do monthly reports for council and staff, that would also highlight any problems or changes with the budget or cash flow, and that all three do multiple budget amendments throughout the year.
Auburn has an amendment in which it may change its forecasted fund balances and property tax certification to actual numbers, and Sammamish may adjust for labor contract changes if they are substantial, Orton said.
State law requires that cities using the biennium budget process do a midbiennium review. When the midterm review is scheduled, there are generally no surprises, Orton said.
He also pointed out that all three cities adopt two, one-year budgets, rather than two years lumped together, and that he would recommend Snoqualmie do the same.
Councilwoman Kathi Prewitt, a member of the council’s finance subcommittee, said a biennium budget saves staff time because they don’t have to build a 10,000-line item budget from the ground up every year.
Lyman Howard, Sammamish’s deputy manager who used to be the city’s finance director, said he concurs with the timesaving aspect.
“I’m a big fan of the two-year cycle,” Howard said. “It saves time and money. You don’t have to go through the deliberate, great undertaking of an annual budget, which diverts staff resources that could be going to other city services and helping citizens.”
He said Sammamish uses the extra time on the off-budget year to tackle big research projects.
This year, Sammamish is evaluating fire services options during its off budget year.
“Lots of times, the people working on the budget would also have to be doing this research and long-term planning. It’s a much more efficient process,” Howard said.
However, councilmen Charles Peterson and Bryan Holloway were not sold on the idea and voted against it.
Holloway said annual budgets give the council a clear expectation about what’s ahead financially, and he thought that might be lost during a two-year cycle.
Orton explained that the midterm review would help with the long-term forecast, and that adjustments and amendments could be made as needed.
“I do not view a biennial budget as something that will dilute or reduce council’s control of fiscal planning,” he said. “The budget cannot be amended without council approval — and the requisite public hearings. I can hardly conceive of a policy change that might impact the budget that would not require approval of the governing board. This simply does not change under a biennial system.”
Prewitt said her finance subcommittee will now take a look at the actual process of how to go forward with a biennium budget for 2013 and 2014, and make recommendations to the council.
Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.