Washougal passes conservative 2021 budget, keeps existing services

Councilwoman: Many unknowns may make 2022 budget ‘a bit of a doozy’

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City of Washougal leaders are “cautiously optimistic” about the agency’s financial position heading into next year, but recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting their options to provide amenity and service enhancements.

City council members unanimously approved the city’s $58 million 2021 budget during their Nov. 9 virtual meeting.

“Under the leadership of the mayor and council, we can propose a balanced baseline operating budget which maintains all existing service levels for 2021,” City Manager David Scott wrote in a letter to community members. “Enhanced services in response to community and council priorities are contemplated depending upon how we emerge from the economic uncertainty we are experiencing. The 2021 budget also allows us to continue advancing our capital facilities efforts, delivering important projects.”

Scott told the Post-Record that the city “is in a good overall financial position.”

“We’re cautiously optimistic that revenues will continue to be stable and allow us to continue to maintain our current service levels,” Scott said. “Given some of the dynamics going on notwithstanding the pandemic, that’s not an unusual story for Washougal. Year after year, we look at our ability to retain current service levels and modest opportunities to enhance them. When we have opportunities, we certainly take them. In this budget there will be opportunities for enhancement.”

Councilwoman Alex Yost is in favor of the city’s conservative financial approach.

“That’s the Washougal way,” she said. “Our team does a good job of finding grants, matching funds and partnerships with other organizations, and making sure that community needs are met without putting a burden on the community. That level-headedness has served us well in the past and will continue to serve us as we move forward in this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ of economics.”

Scott said that there’s “no significant differences” between the city’s 2020 and 2021 budgets.

“What surprises me is that the numbers came in pretty normal across the board,” Yost said. “I think that looking ahead to next year, the 2022 budget is going to be a bit of a doozy because there are so many unknowns.”

The city paused several of its planned 2020 initiatives, including the Schmid Ballfields and Washougal Waterfront Trail construction projects, to focus on its pandemic response, Scott wrote, but is planning to resume them in 2021.

“These are huge projects,” Yost said. “People have been chipping away on these things for a long time, so it’s cool to deliver major public amenities for the community in a time of need.”

The budget also addresses key council and community priorities by investing in capital facilities projects and enhancing community livability, Scott wrote.

“We’re going to be very cautious on the expenditure side,” he said. “Maybe we won’t start other initiatives right away in 2021. Maybe we’ll bide our time a bit. We won’t be doing bigger ticket capital projects from the general fund. Any generally funded initiatives, studies or analyses that we were going to undertake, we’ll wait a while. We have four vacant positions that we held open for all of last year, and we won’t fill them until we start to have a better sense of the economic implications of the pandemic.”

The council identified several areas, including core service maintenance, the city’s enhanced pavement management program, community aesthetics, enhanced community engagement, and investment in parks, facilities, street and utility systems and infrastructure, as budget priorities, Scott said.

“I’m amazingly grateful to the council,” he said. “One of our (advantages) is that myself and the city’s senior leadership staff and the council have worked together for some time. There’s a lot of continuity around our vision, our ‘road map’ and what we want to accomplish, and there’s a lot of good communication as we try to get there. That’s the key to success, and we’ll try to keep that up.”