City Cost Management
We have seen rising Anacortes City Budgets over recent years, and residents are expressing concern about what is driving these increases and how the City is managing costs, operations and capital spending.
Some of the recent rising costs, resulting in a $68M City Budget for 2020, are a result of delayed capital spending over the past several years. We are currently paying for capital improvement that should have been conducted in water, sewage and other public utility areas over the last decade.
This highlights the need for careful annual evaluation and planning of capital projects and maintenance to ensure we are planning effectively for future need and cost, and that we are not deferring cost to future years. The City Council needs to put great effort into reviewing and testing the capital plans submitted by the City, ensuring they understand the implication of how costs land on future years.
Additional high-cost capital investment projects under consideration, after the recent High School replacement, include a new or refurbished City Hall, public pool, recreation center, senior center, library roofing and roads. Altogether these projects sum to tens of millions of dollars in capital cost, which would add to the burden currently borne from our $100M High School investment.
We will need to carefully prioritize our needs, ensuring that critical utility infrastructure comes before elective improvements to recreation facilities and government offices.
We must also acknowledge that we can’t have everything we want immediately, and we’ll need to layer our capital development over time to ensure we are not burdening residents, especially low-income residents, with costs they cannot bear.
We may also consider consolidating public recreation facilities to reduce cost by co-housing facilities for seniors, swimmers and children. Sharing facilities may reduce the cost significantly in terms of land, construction, maintenance and staffing.
Finally, operational costs make up a significant portion of our annual budget. Many of these costs are flow-through costs from other providers (waste disposal), employee costs for critical workers, or simply the costs of utilities provided to residents. The City already scrutinized operational spending carefully and should continue to demonstrate this responsible care of public funds.
I do believe the City Council would benefit by adding additional financial acumen to better enable them to evaluate, understand and plan for operations and capital investment in Anacortes.