Walla Walla's city government is now facing a $1.8 million shortfall, which means either deep cuts and reductions in services or higher taxes.
To this point, the public has made it clear it doesn't want higher taxes.
And this is why the city is now holding public meetings -- the next scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at The Center at The Park, 720 Sprague St. -- so the public can hear the options and offer their views.
Given the amount that has to be cut, there are no good choices.
Fire, Police and Parks departments are looking at cuts of four to eight percent for the next two years. The library could face a cut of more than 20 percent, although a large portion of that hinges on unresolved reimbursement negotiations with the Walla Walla County Rural Library District.
Fire and police are areas that, until now, were untouchable. This community has been incredibly supportive of both departments at election time as bonds for new buildings have been approved as have new taxes for fighting crime.
But the projected shortfall is so large that there could be no choice but to reduce fire and police services.
The Parks Department, too, will likely have to make uncomfortable cuts. It is looking at cutting $207,000 from its $2.4 million budget, or roughly eight percent. The department's director said it is considering cutting two full-time positions and closing the Aviary at Pioneer Park.
As we've said before, we think closing the Aviary is a huge mistake because once it's gone it is never coming back. The cages left behind will become an eyesore (or have to be removed at a cost).
The proposed cuts to the library are troubling as well. The library has had to absorb cuts over the last few years, which has forced the reduction of staff and hours. At some point, the cuts will reduce the hours and services to the point citizens won't be getting much of a return on their tax investment.
Still, the city has no choice but to balance the budget.
The citizens have said over and over again that they want government to live within its means. Over the past two decades, until the Great Recession hit, that's been relatively easy. It's not anymore.
When the economy picks up and tax revenues increase, the city will be able to restore some of the services it will have to cut. That day isn't yet on the horizon.
Until it comes, city government is going to be smaller and services will be reduced. It's a tough reality to accept, but it's reality nevertheless.