Councilman needs to verify information, accurately

photo

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard

I read with both interest and disappointment Councilman Dave Shoemaker’s editorial of Aug. 30. Interest that some of our council are working to communicate with the public, but disappointment that Councilman Shoemaker’s information was incorrect and misleading.

It is ironic that the councilman states in his piece “trust, but verify,” when most of the information he has provided is incorrect.

Washougal has not signed a $500,000 economic development agreement. Washougal approved a joint economic development effort with the Port of Camas-Washougal and the City of Camas. Washougal’s contribution is $50,000 per year, not $500,000. Camas is also contributing $50,000 per year and the Port $100,000 per year.

Washougal has not spent $155,000 of general reserves for the emergency medical system. We did recently approve expending $55,000 on an additional EMT/firefighter out of EMS Restricted Funds, funds collected from taxpayers specifically for EMS services. The addition of that EMT is to bring down our annual overtime costs incurred in the system. We also transferred $95,000 to the EMS system from the same restricted EMS funds, not from general reserves, to help stabilize the system for our Washougal residents.

Out of the 2011 budget, we just purchased Washougal’s first medical rescue unit (ambulance) to update the equipment utilized in this vital service in Washougal. Part of that purchase also included a new LifePak defibrillating unit as well as automated heart defibrillator units for all schools in Washougal and city buildings.

None of these expenditures came from general reserves and all were contained in the 2011 city budget for the restricted revenue EMS account.

Councilman Shoemaker also reported that we have just spent $300,000 for unneeded south side sidewalks along E Street from Sixth Street to Washougal River Road. As Councilman Shoemaker should know from our latest council workshop, the bid and engineering costs for those sidewalks came in at less than $246,000, not $300,000.

Finally, the City of Washougal is nowhere near “going broke” as Councilman Shoemaker stated. The City Council in 2009 adopted a budget for 2010 using over $1.5 million in reserves to balance the budget.

When I took office in January 2010, I stated that was unacceptable and I ordered a significant financial study, approved by the council, to help determine our true financial picture. Through diligent work by the staff and department heads in our city, assisted by a significant number of foreclosed homes selling at the end of the year and the city receiving significant back taxes, not only did we not spend any reserves in 2010, we actually ended the year with over $350,000 of a surplus. That is a reverse of over $1.85 million.

Our current projection in 2011 is that we will also end this year with a small surplus of funds.

In full disclosure, as we should always be, in mid-2011 I did ask the council to consider taking some funds from general reserves to use for projects that had been cut from 2010 and 2011 budgets, especially in light of 2010 ending with such a large surplus. Staff made presentations on these projects and requests during multiple council meetings and in the end, the council did vote to approve the expenditures. Not all of the council voted yes, but the majority of the council did. The sidewalks along E Street and funds for conceptual design for a new interchange at Highway 14 and 27th Street are two of the important projects funded in this way.

I believe that when 2011 is complete we will have saved more in 2010 and 2011 than the amount of reserves that we used for those projects. In other words, our general reserves will continue to grow, not diminish.

Your city staff, and city council are good stewards of your tax dollars. I certainly understand that we are in election season and many council seats will be decided. I also understand that there are some people who will want to distort the facts to their “advantage” but in the end, the numbers are the numbers and numbers don’t lie.

I appreciate and respect Councilman Shoemaker asking questions regarding any of our expenditures. Too often in the past questions were not asked, which naturally caused some people to question our operations. We should always be willing and able to explain and sometimes defend our decisions. We have the same responsibility to communicate the answers correctly.

I encourage all of our citizens to ask questions, to be involved in our upcoming budget discussions and to be better informed as to the financial health of the City of Washougal. We are still in difficult times and while we are better positioned than some other communities, the economy does still hamper our efforts to be as responsive as your hardworking city staff would prefer to be.

I further encourage all of our citizens to go to the city’s website (www.cityofwashougal.us) and participate in our on-line strategic planning survey. It takes only a couple of minutes and the results of that survey will help to guide how we prioritize some of our spending in the future.

This is still your community. Please help guide us through your input and suggestions.

Sean Guard is the Washougal mayor. He can be reached at 834-2533 or sguard@ci.washougal.wa.us.