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Budget committee tentatively approves staff, service cuts

Committee will discuss water and street projects tonight


When the Lake Oswego Budget Committee meets today, it will dive into the details of the biggest infrastructure project in the city’s history.

The 2013-14 budget includes $112 million for the city’s portion of Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership projects, paid for through residents’ and businesses’ utility bills.

In addition, the budget committee could add money for road maintenance. City Manager Tom Coffee has warned that Lake Oswego needs to spend more than $3 million annually to bring its streets up to average condition, and the city council has identified road projects as a key area to focus on. But at this point in the process, the city has only planned for about $200,000 in spending on basic street repairs and maintenance.

The budget committee, made up of the six city councilors, the mayor and seven citizen members, will continue reviewing the plan at 6 p.m. today at city hall, 380 A Ave.

As proposed April 18, the $421 million spending plan mostly holds the line on programs and services.

However, the committee on May 2 tentatively approved a handful of “decision packages” that Coffee unveiled April 25. The packages target specific services — and employees — to cut.

The cuts would result in scaled-back services. Duties and tasks associated with the eliminated positions would shift to other employees, mostly in the city manager’s office. The idea is to rein in spending on salaries and benefits, which account for the lion’s share of general fund expenditures each year, and to free up money for street maintenance and major equipment purchases coming down the pike.

Growth in property tax revenues is gradually falling behind the city’s rising costs to pay employees, in part because of ballooning retirement and health insurance expenses. In addition, the city typically relies on its fund balance — money left at the end of the fiscal year — to cover expenses. But the amount left over each year has been on the decline, according to the city.

Spending reductions tentatively approved last week include:

• Economic development — The committee voted to try to save $71,000 by cutting a project manager in the economic development department, although it opted to keep giving $30,000 in support to the chamber of commerce and a city marketing plan.

• Parks and recreation — one of four recreation program supervisors will be laid off, and a senior parks utility worker’s position won’t be filled when that person retires in the coming year, with savings estimated at more than $140,000.

• Planning — The committee voted to eliminate three long-range planners, an estimated savings of $232,000.

• Public affairs — The committee voted to eliminate the city’s public affairs manager, an estimated savings of $101,000.

While the city manager had suggested the committee drop Lake Oswego’s sustainability program, laying off the person who runs it, sustainability survived this round of budget meetings — barely.

City Councilor Jeff Gudman noted these votes are preliminary; the group will revisit them after making it through a hefty list of expenditures and resources, and it could make additional changes before its final deliberations. He said the key is finding the right balance between environmental, social and financial concerns.

In addition to proposed cuts, the committee tentatively agreed to spend $80,000 on a consultant to undo the existing sensitive lands protection program and implement an alternative method of preserving the environment and natural resources. And it added $800,000 back into anticipated revenues by restoring the property tax rate, which it earlier considered lowering, and it budgeted a staff vacancy rate into the budget to save more on the spending side.

It also pointed to some areas for future discussion. Those include potentially privatizing the municipal golf course, now subsidized by the city’s general fund; considering contracting with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue instead of running a full-service city fire department; and considering a citywide gas tax — which voters would have to approve — to raise more money for street maintenance.

Other topics up for eventual consideration include levying the full amount allowed in franchise fees — expenses that appear on residents’ cable, gas and electricity bills, helping fund a new artificial infield for little league baseball, buying Hallinan Woods, providing money toward a new playground at Westridge Elementary School and helping pay for the Lake Oswego School District’s swimming pool.

The committee also plans to continue dissecting parks and recreation spending.

Committee chairman David Berg credited Bill Tierney, a former city councilor, with a years-long push for information about how much money recreation programs generate compared to their costs.

Ivan Anderholm, the city’s interim parks director, presented that information May 2.

Berg called it a “major breakthrough.” Are these programs paying for themselves? “Absolutely not,” he said. "… We now know it costs us around a million dollars in general funds to subsidize the sports programs, cultural activities, etcetera. It is something we need to review.”

At its meeting tonight, the group will deliberate on additional “decision packages” outside of the proposed budget. Those include funding maintenance of vegetation along the city’s streets, an estimated cost of $50,000, and potentially increasing spending on basic road work.

Weigh in on the budget

The city council is expected to review the committee’s approved budget and adopt a spending plan in June. The budget would then take effect in July.

To participate in budget discussions online, visit www.ci.oswego.or.us/publicaffairs/open-city-hall.

Meetings are televised for cable customers on TVCTV and will stream live via the city’s website at mms://www.ci.oswego.or.us/live.



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