Black Diamond passes budget, narrowly avoids government shutdown

An 11th-hour compromise prevented a government shutdown that many feared would put public safety in Black Diamond at risk.

After great debate and a few compromises, Black Diamond city leaders approved a budget late Tuesday night and avoided a looming government shutdown.

The shutdown would've taken effect if a 2017 budget was not approved by January first.

Black Diamond residents and taxpayers packed into city hall for a special called meeting on Tuesday.  Many expressed concern about losing their police protection and fire service, along with utilities like water and sewer if their elected officials couldn't stop bickering long enough to pass a budget.

"On January first when there is no police and no fire, and your neighbor's house is burning, are you going to save them?," one woman asked council members.  "Are you going to do it?  It's the safety of your citizens in this community that's at risk."

The problem is a political power struggle that started out as a dispute over several large development projects that would add fives times the population to Black Diamond.  

Council members Pat Pepper, Brian Weber, and Erika Morgan are opposed to the development.  They have refused to show up at several council meetings and have spent the last year fighting with Mayor Carol Benson.

They also refused to vote for Benson's proposed budget.  Weber even proposed his own substitute budget proposal, which the city attorney and city finance director both expressed concerns about, saying much of Weber's proposal was not legal.

Just before Tuesday's meeting, Benson told KING 5 they couldn't operate a city without a budget because they wouldn't be able to pay city employees -- including police officers.  She stressed the importance of approving a budget as soon as possible.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, most residents who spoke to council lashed out at Pepper, Weber, and Morgan, and begged them to vote for the mayor's budget.

"I'm asking all of you to pass a budget tonight and work out your differences later," one resident said.

The city attorney encouraged council members to do the same, suggesting that council adopt the mayor's budget for three months so that it expires on March 31.

He said approving that temporary budget would serve as a short-term fix, avoid a government shutdown and get the City of Black Diamond in compliance with state law by having a budget in place by January first.  Then, the council could spend the next three months working on a more permanent solution, and a budget that would carry them through the rest of the year.

After a few other amendments, council members Pepper, Weber, and Morgan agreed to vote on the amended budget proposal.

The budget was approved just before 8 p.m., and the vote was met with cheers from many in the audience.

"Thank you for doing the right thing tonight," one resident said. "But you've still got a lot of work to do."

Copyright 2016 KING


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