At a workshop on Monday, City Councilmembers dove more deeply into their work on the 2015-2016 budget, surfacing with generally positive news. The results of two recently completed surveys show residents are highly satisfied with the direction of the city.
Data is from a biannual budget survey, conducted this year from January 10 to February 6, and an annual performance survey conducted January 31 to February 27. The surveys found:
- 95 percent of respondents said Bellevue's overall quality of life exceeds or greatly exceeds expectations, the same share as last year (performance survey). However, those who said it greatly exceeds expectations jumped from 30 percent in 2013 to 40 percent this year;
- The majority of residents, 86 percent, feel the city is headed in the right direction, up from 79 percent in 2012 and 83 percent in 2013 (performance survey);
- 85 percent say they are getting their money's worth for their city tax dollar, up from 73 percent in 2013 (performance survey);
- "Improved mobility" tied with "safe community," each label garnering 22.3 percent of Bellevue residents who listed it as their number one budget priority (budget survey); and
- 75 percent of respondents said the city should keep taxes and services where they are, the same result as in 2010 and 2012 (budget survey). 15 percent said there should be a decrease in services and taxes, while 10 percent said there should be an increase;
The budget survey included 403 interviews and the performance survey included 491 interviews, both utilizing a mix of telephone and online responses. The margin of error for both surveys was plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Building budget 2015-2016
In February the council signed off on a framework for building the 2015-16 operating budget, as well as the 2015-2021 capital budget. The city will again use an "outcomes" approach to craft the operating budget. In this process, city services and programs are evaluated based on community priorities, or outcomes, rather than by city departments.
The process shifts the emphasis from paying for costs to buying results. Proposals are submitted by staff on how best to achieve the results, then interdepartmental teams rank the proposals based on community priorities and fund them based on available resources. The seven outcomes are safe community; improved mobility; healthy and sustainable environment; innovative, vibrant and caring community; quality neighborhoods; economic growth and competitiveness; and responsive government.
Work to create a 2015-2021 capital budget, called the Capital Investment Program, runs parallel with, but separate from the operating budget. The council is also starting a process to create a longer term capital plan. A lengthy list of proposed capital projects over the next 20 years totals more than $1.2 billion, while available resources are projected at about $400 million (both estimates in 2013 dollars).
The economic outlook
Part of the budget workshop included forecasts about the local economy, which will dictate how much revenue the city has for services and capital projects. Overall, the analysis assumes a modest recovery of tax revenues over the next few years as the local economy continues to bounce back from the Great Recession.
Although Bellevue and the Puget Sound region have fared better than the national economy, the local unemployment rate and home values have not yet returned to their former levels.
Public outreach opportunities
In addition to the two surveys, the city's Neighborhood Outreach team and the Finance Department sought feedback from the public about budget priorities during a Neighborhood Leadership Gathering on February 27.
A report on the event, attended by 60 people, is available on the city's budget public involvement page. Also on the page is a summary of upcoming opportunities to comment on the budget.
The council will hold three public hearings to solicit feedback on the budget. Tentative hearing dates are May 19, July 21 and November 17. After the city manager presents a proposed budget in October, the council will adopt a final operating budget and capital budget in December.
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