City prudent to avoid deeper cuts to services

But city officials will need to monitor tax revenue and adjust spending if the economic situation changes.

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The Walla Walla City Council made some very difficult decisions -- starting with eliminating 32 jobs -- to balance the budget in the face of declining tax revenues.

These lost jobs will make it more difficult for the city to provide services next year at the same level as this year. Expect reduced maintenance at parks and fewer firefighters on the job. Having to trim about $2 million out of an annual budget of more than $23 million is significant.

Still, the cuts could have been a lot deeper and a lot more painful.

Some Council members thought the city should have shed even more expenses and not used money normally set aside for replacing cars and other capital expenses. Council members Dominick Elia, Shane Laib and Jerry Cummins opposed adopting the budget that was approved on a 4-3 vote.

"We have done a lot of things that are acceptable and legal, but I am not certain that they are sustainable ... It is going to cost us in the long run," Elia said after the budget was approved last week.

Elia makes an excellent point. If the economy doesn't improve and tax collections stay flat or go even lower, the city will likely be looking at making more cuts next year because there simply won't be money available to pay for everything in the year's budget.

But if the economy turns around, the cash will be available to fund park maintenance, law enforcement, firefighting and other city services at levels the public expects.

If city services are cut too much now, it will be difficult -- and expensive -- to bring those services back. New people will have to be hired and trained.

The economy looks to be rebounding -- albeit slowly. Given that, it makes sense to minimize the cuts this year on the hope that better days are ahead.

Yes, it is a calculated risk, but one worth taking. Keeping city workers on the job providing services for the public is important.

The concerns of Elia and Council members, however, cannot be ignored. City officials will need to monitor tax revenue and adjust spending if the economy begins to fade again

But at this point, considering the serious economic situation and the uncertain future, the budget approved by the City Council is appropriate.



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