Langley ponders budget dilemma

Officials continue to discuss ways to scrimp and save in light of the city’s dire financial situation

Langley officials are continuing to discuss ways to scrimp and save in light of the city’s dire financial situation.

Although the city council previously discussed the possibility of a public safety sales tax – which would require the approval of voters – a final resolution wasn’t ready in time for the Monday meeting this week. In an interview, Mayor Kennedy Horstman said the tax may not make it on this November’s ballot. The deadline to file a resolution for the general election is approaching soon on Aug. 6.

City staff and council members brainstormed various ways to make cuts to an already slim budget.

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno suggested looking at getting rid of employee spousal benefits, which she said the city currently pays a generous amount.

“I think when we hire new people, it’s not about taking away from those who are here, but I think we’re going to need to address some of our shortfall by looking at what we do in the future,” she said.

The mayor agreed that it is important to continue to be frugal but emphasized the importance of remaining competitive in terms of attracting and retaining staff.

Finance Director Wanda Grone said staff have been looking at the office machines that the city currently leases. Her department has already made the decision to return a postage machine that was costing the city more than stamps. A leased copy machine currently costs $600 each month but could potentially be swapped for a cheaper alternative.

Councilmember Craig Cyr said he had heard from previous Police Chief Don Lauer that Langley police vehicles drive a total of 40,000 miles per year, pointing out that there are expenses that must be incurred when Langley police officers support Island County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Current Police Chief Tavier Wasser confirmed that each vehicle drives a little over 12,000 miles per year. The city and the county have a mutual aid agreement in case of a critical incident, but there is no financial agreement as part of that. Wasser said he had no doubt that Langley is getting a benefit out of the deal.

Councilmember Chris Carlson asked Wasser if the city could safely provide 24/7 police service to Langley with fewer full-time employees, to which he said no.

“We can’t reduce hours, by (state) statute,” the police chief said, adding that the biggest chunk of the department’s money goes toward wages, which is where cuts could potentially be made.

Horstman said she is putting together an operational budget for 2024 and that she fully intends for the city to underspend significantly.

“My expectation is that we will use that operating budget as the baseline for our 2025 planning,” she said, adding that she welcomes questions in the interim about where money is being spent.