Do the dots have it?
We’ll find out soon enough, as City Manager Chris Eppley and his staff prepare a budget for the upcoming year.
But at a joint meeting of the Keizer City Council and Budget Committee on Monday, April 12, a dot exercise revealed that cops and other city employees may bear the brunt of a $250,000 general fund shortfall.
Councilors and committee members were given several dot stickers with their initials on them, and were presented with poster boards of various options Eppley recommended to balance the budget.
Fee increases on water and sewer got some support – as did shutting down the city’s new splash park for all but a few days this summer – but laying off a police officer and reducing work hours city wide got the most support.
Already included in the proposed budget – reductions that don’t address the remaining $250,000 fiscal gap – are a salary freeze for all non-represented employees, department heads and the city manager. Also included are continuing cuts from this year’s budget as well as ending neighborhood association expenses, the Keizer Public Art Walk funding, maintaining Christmas lights, and the stipend for the Keizer Community Library. His proposal also includes using about $19,000 set aside to someday study whether a library taxing district should be placed on the election ballot to shore up the general fund.
Ways to raise revenue included raising water and sewer franchise fees from 5 percent to 7 percent.
City staff are already planning a 5 percent stormwater fee. Eppley said these measures would add about $15 per year to customers’ water and sewer bills.
Committee member Sandi King said increasing basic utility fees “adds insult to injury” in light of high unemployment and other signs of a tough economy.
“I agree that it is not an attractive option,” Eppley replied. “I believe it is just as legitimate and valid an option as reducing services in other areas.”
The funding gap comes from declining revenues, mostly franchise fees, city staff said. Cost overruns at the civic center – which came out of the urban renewal fund – did not contribute to the shortfall.
Police Chief Marc Adams muttered this to himself as he and several other top Keizer police officers stared in seeming disbelief at the number of dots on the board favoring laying off a cop.
Earlier that evening he told the room any cuts would not affect patrol, but would instead affect other areas like pro-active narcotics investigations.
Per the contract between the Keizer Police Association – the officers’ union – and the city – the union would have to concede to any pay freezes or cuts. The only option that the city can perform without permission is layoffs, which is determined by seniority.
But Adams said laying off just one officer – an entry-level position – won’t cover the $70,000 or so he may be asked to slice from his budget.
“I pretty much expected” being targeted for cuts, Adams said, noting his department represents 75 percent of the city’s general fund spending. “My plan was to add six officers over the next few years.
“But the tax base is what it is, and we’ll have to work with that.”
He said such a cut would put the department two positions below staffing levels one year ago, before Capt. John Teague left to become chief in Dallas.
During the exercise, participants could use multiple dots in specific areas to indicate an emphasis. Reducing work hours and pay city-wide got 23 votes, while laying off an officer got 19 votes.
Water rate hikes got eight votes, and sewer increases got 11 votes. A $1 line item for parks on utility bills got 10. Shutting off the spray park for most of the year got 13 votes.
Mayor Lore Christopher remarked that her options were “crappy,” and Councilor Richard Walsh noted that decisions have not yet been finalized.
“I think a lot more studying needs to be done before we know what the impact to the city will be,” he said.