By Jack Mayne
While the City of SeaTac is one of the more financially stable smaller South King County cities, the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on taxpayers have meant less taxes paid in some categories, while other funds are more stable.
The result is some shifting and changing, in various South King County cities, some much more affected than others.
SeaTac and its enclosed airport is hit less than some other cities, but nevertheless there are impacts.
This week, the SeaTac City Council passed unanimously a budget change that prompted the sudden shift of finances because of the global outbreak of a new influenza A virus that is very different from current and recently circulating human seasonal influenza outbreaks. In effect, the city has – because of the pandemic – gone from a financially stable city to one where shifting demands cause financial upheaval.
SeaTac Finance and Systems Director Gwen Pilo told the Council on Tuesday (Aug. 11) that due to the Coronavirus, SeaTac anticipates “excessive” loss of revenue in all funds and “expenditures are anticipated to exceed revenue in eight of the city’s 16 funds.”
Many businesses and residents have faced costs increased by the effects of the pandemic, effects that will continue for the foreseeable future and that may change upwardly in months to come, say city and other financial and government watchers.
“However,” Pilo said, “all funds will be able to cover the deficit and still meet their reserve target,” she said. “The general fund is impacted the most as sales tax, our second largest revenue source, is seeing the largest decline at approximately 50 percent of what was budgeted,” she said in a written summary of her report to Council.
Pilo said city finance staff has been monitoring the budget to actual, and evaluating and analyzing he financial impact to the City of SeaTac since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
City Manager Carl Cole said the city employee unions and the city have reached an agreement on a furlough plan to be in effect during pandemic closures of City Hall when full city staff is not needed to assist the public.
The agreement is that every employee will be taking 40 hours of unpaid time.
“We’ve broken it up so that it will come out in all of the pay periods ’til the end of the year so the sting is not so bad,” Cole said, with four hours taken out every pay period and eight hours for Christmas, “which we will take off.”
So everyone will know, Cole said, all employees will all take the same four hours and city hall will be closed at those times.
“Initial steps taken to mitigate the revenue shortage include a hiring freeze on non-essential positions, cancellation of travel and training, limiting overtime, and identification of programs within departmental budgets that could be delayed or eliminated without impacting service levels. These actions reduced expenditures by approximately 2.3 million.
Pilo said the Administration and Finance Committee supported city staff recommendations to use “two months of excess reserves to help cover the shortfall. This will leave approximately 2.3 months of excess reserves at the end of 2020.
The result of all the calculations “coupled with the departmental reductions, leaves the General fund approximately $1.4 million short,” Pilo said in a written report to Councilmembers.
Tax for any purpose
But Pilo wrote Council the city’s Municipal Capital Improvements Fund is partially financed by the construction sales tax which, like any sector sales tax, can be used for any purpose.
She said that if the Council approved the staff recommendation, “(the) ending fund balance across all funds is budgeted to be $75.8 million at the end of 2020,” Pilo wrote in her budget summary report. Staff anticipates that remaining excess reserves will be needed to off-set shortfalls in the 2021-2022 budget, she told Council.
But further help will be needed later, despite the amendment that focuses on addressing the biennial 2019-2020 budget. “This is a one-time transfer that does not help increase revenue in future years and staff will continue to seek opportunities to reduce spending to offset lost revenue.
Staff anticipates that remaining excess reserves will still be needed to off-set shortfalls in the current city budget, Pilo said. She asked the Council to approve changes, leaving an amended total 2020 ending balance. It likely will return to face the Council again.
Mayor Sitterley said she was “marginally okay” with it.
Councilmember Clyde Hill said he favored moving the restricted funds to the general fund to trim the potential shortfalls due to the impacts of the pandemic. He voted to move the money to avoid a general fund deficit.
Councilmember Pam Fernald were the city would be in virus had not struct and Pilo said “if we did not have this, we would give more to our reserve fund.” She said the critical thing for her is they staff is beginning assembling the next year budget if if the pandemic did not siphon off funds, they would be in the next biennium budget. “Use it as we need it.”
Councilmember Peter Kwon said he favored the movement of funds from potential future use to the upcoming budget but questioned the reason for the technical ways the budget was assembled.
Women vote, become mayors
The mayor noted it was the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which “says that the right to vote shall not be denied because of gender.” She noted that since the city was “incorporated on February 28, 1990,” many women have participated in city government, including many before her who have served as mayor.
Veteran Councilmember Pam Fernald remembers that when she started work at Boeing, “only men could wear long pants” and now the reality is many women in all occupations, and a woman police chief “would have been unheard of,” noting soon-to-retire Seatte Police Chief Carmen Best. “In the not too distant past, not only a woman, but a minority, so I think that is wonderful.”
New Councilmember Senayet Negusse noted “I am very young and so my reflection is more of deep gratitude to previous generations … that individuals who were known and unknown who fought for those rights to vote… and the passage of the 19th amendment was a watershed moment for American women and I want to thank those for giving us a voice. I’m grateful.”
The Council was introduced to a promoted city employee, Administrative Assistant Barb Mailo by City Manager Carl Cole.
Resident Tom Sitterley (pictured, left), husband to Mayor Erin Sitterley, said at pubic comment time at the beginning of the Council meeting on Aug. 11, that he would like to see SeaTac Police, whose manpower is contracted as deputy King County Sheriff’s officers, go in a “different direction.”
He noted that defunding of police is being discussed in Seattle and other places, and Seattle “already has started the process of defunding their police department.” In SeaTac, some people have complaints about the police, that “the police aren’t focused on community involvement, move focused on punishment and crime,” the he thinks the SeaTac Police “are doing the things they need to do and I would really like to see us go in another direction, especially in light of the fact that we have significant traffic issues, couple of recent accidents on Military Road, one of them fatal.” He noted there “all sorts of driving infractions that are dangerous ….”
He said he recommended adding “two more pairs of motorcycle police officers to our city police force “that would give us seven-day a week daylight coverage …” that would give police more daylight visibility let “the officers really get to know the neighbors and the neighborhood,” something officers on motorcycles can do more easily.