WALLA WALLA -- Two years ago, while facing budget cuts and debating over funding of programs like the Community Center for Youth, the Pioneer Park Aviary and library hours, Council member Jerry Cummins warned it was not time to spend but to make more cuts and save.
"If the sales tax goes like they are projecting today ... we may be back here with a major task of not only making cuts, but making staff cuts," Cummins said to his colleagues on Nov. 19, 2008.
On Wednesday night, that prediction caught up with the city, as Council members narrowly approved the 2011-2012 biennial budget, which will most likely result in the elimination of 32 positions through attrition and layoffs.
Mayor Barbara Clark and Council members Fred Mitchell, Jim Barrow and Conrado Cavazos voted in favor of passing the biennial budget, while Dominick Elia, Shane Laib and Cummins voted against.
"These are troubling times. And I think that it is imperative that we are dealing with 32 employees, and that is a very difficult task to do ... Part of my response was that we are funding some public programs that in essence were taking money away from some of those needed essential positions that we had," Cummins said.
One of biennial budget goals was to create a sustainable budget. And in past meetings, Elia has strongly opposed staff's reliance on $400,000 in reserve funds to keep programs going.
So it did not come as a surprise that Elia was also against a recent finance proposal to transfer interest gains from various city department holdings to the general fund. Normally, those interest gains would have been kept by their respective departments and used for expenditures such as vehicle replacement costs.
"We have done a lot of things that are acceptable and legal, but I am not certain that they are sustainable ... Legal? Yes. Sustainable? I don't think so. It is going to cost us in the long run," Elia said.
One of the groups that has heavily criticized this year's budget cuts has been local volunteers of the Walla Walla Police Department's crime prevention program. At a recent budget meeting, group members have criticized the city's plan to lay off both crime prevention officers.
At Wednesday night's Council meeting, staff reported that at least one crime prevention officer would be retained for 2011. Though the department will still lose one captain, one secretary and see numerous cuts in training and other programs.
In addition to cutting 32 postions, services are expected to be cut; maintenance, including park maintenance, will be reduced; and fire positions and training will be reduced for the next two years.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.