by Jack Mayne
The Des Moines City Council was expected to discuss furloughing city staff this year to save nearly $286,000 and moved the issue to the Council meeting of Feb. 11, but the Council did hear a proposal to allow chickens to be raised by residents.
The postponement came when Councilmember Rob Back said he wasn’t able to vote on the issue and used Councilmember privilege to remove the issue from the Council’s consent agenda.
The Council also on Thursday night (Feb. 4) got a routine update on Sound Transit’s proposed work on the Kent-Des Moines and Highline College station.
Budget balancing furloughs
The idea came about after the city’s attempt to levy a utility tax on water and sewer districts stirred up a controversy during last fall and winter’s biennial budget discussions. But the postponement of the tax led to need to cut the budget to match income.
The city agenda said City Manager Tony Piasecki and Human Resources Manager Maureen Murphy have “met several times with committee members from the non-represented employee groups to give staff the opportunity to have a voice in determining how furloughs would be applied. While no consensus was reached with the non-represented employee committees, it is still necessary to implement mandatory furlough days in order for the city to meet its budget constraints.”
The city said “alternatives to furloughs include further reductions in force by way of layoffs or additional cuts in services and programs.
The city said it had set a target cost reduction in 2016 personnel compensation for the general fund of $284,720 and several employees switching to the high deductible medical plan met that target.
“The rest of the 2016 savings will come from the furlough program,” the Council agenda document said.
That will apparently be discussed at the Feb. 11 meeting.
Fresh chickens and eggs
Resident Tom Sneath told the Des Moines Council Thursday night (Feb. 4) that he was asking the Council to make chickens legal in the city. In a letter to the Waterland Blog last week, Sneath said he was representing the a group called the Top Secret Chicken Society of Des Moines and outlined the their proposal.
“Our goal is to bring backyard chicken ordinances in line with all of the bordering cities,” Sneath wrote.
He told the Council and said in his letter to the Waterland ‘Blog that his group was “interested in providing fresh, natural, eggs for our families,” and said many in the city are already raising the chickens illegally.
“The word out there is ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ As long as you care for your birds and don’t keep roosters or become a nuisance, the city really doesn’t have time to bother you.”
Sneath said he realized while chickens are “not on the big list of what’s wrong in this city, many chicken keepers want to come out of the shadows.”
The Waterland Blog asked City Manager Tony Piasecki what the regulations are currently.
“For most of our single-family residential zones, our code says the minimum lot size for chickens is 22,000 square feet,” he said in an email. “You can have up to 10 chickens and an additional 5 chickens for each 11,000 square feet of property over the minimum 22,000.
“The code does not specify that roosters are not allowed,” Piasecki said.
After Sneath outlined their proposal, resident Cheryl Johnson broke a “fresh egg” and showed it to the staff and Council, saying it was much fresher than any egg bought in a store, which she said were 30 days to six month old.
No furlough for Marina
Todd Powell of the Marina Association said the marina has its own funds and is self supporting and should have no effect on the city’s general fund and furloughs of the staff would cut staff availability beyond what is necessary to get needed work done. He also suggested that with employment opportunities growing, city and marina staff could seek other opportunities and their loss could harm the city and marina.
“Whatever benefit we would possibly get f rom a furlough could be erased completely by having to go through a period of rehiring and retraining and bringing a new staff member to speed if we lost one of the great staff we have now,” Powell said.
Resident Bill Linscott said the Council should look at how the furloughs are allocated, noting also that the marina’s funds are separate. He noted the budget issue is in the general fund and that is where changes should be made.
Linscott said he saw nothing in the material about the furlough about how costs can be cut and how morale of the staff can be retained and improved.
Keep Woodmont safe
Erica Schindler said she is a resident of the Woodmont area, a parent and a medical professional, told of her father seeing two homeless men talking about going to the nearby library.
“How are we going to make sure this is a safe place to live and grow as a community ¬– I’m concerned about that.”
The proposed scaled-down community would have food service and some medical supplied and “will draw the homeless to our community.”
She asked the Council for “what our next step should be, we’re kind of stuck right now.”