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Day: April 13, 2010

Have the dots spoken on budget cuts?

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.

Mayor Lore Christopher weighs her options as Councilor Brandon Smith weighs in favor of laying off a Keizer Police officer in order to help balance the upcoming fiscal year's city budget.

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.

‘Unbelievable’

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.

Legacy: It’s a family affair

Patti and Gary Williamson (left), a husband and wife, and mother-and-son team James and Kathy Hauge have purchased Legacy Real Estate from Greg Hall. (Photo by KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A popular late 90s rock band once sang that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

It’s applicable to the transition that recently gave Legacy Real Estate new owners.

Its founder, Greg Hall, started the company in August of 2001, just a month before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The business survived the ensuing economic downturn and rode the wave of new construction, as prices climbed higher and higher.

Its new owners, a foursome consisting of a husband and wife and a mother and son, say they’re well-positioned for a market rebound and are doing just fine in the meantime, thank you.

The purchase came after Hall had been moving more and more toward the ministry. He worked as a public school teacher before entering real estate, and had been attending seminary school at a local branch of Faith Seminary while running his company and even merging it with Don Jensen’s real estate company in 2008.

“It wasn’t anything I set out to do, but along the way I just got the call” to minister, said Hall, who is now the high school youth pastor at Salem First Church of the Nazarene.

So the firm was purchased by Gary and Patti Williamson, a husband and wife pairing, and Kathy and James Hauge, a mother-and-son team with roots in Keizer dating back to the 1930s. Both attended McNary High School and are part of the Kerr family (Kathy’s maiden name is Kerr). Hall will remain with the company as an agent.

James said he was driven to buy into the company in part due to its existing name value and reputation.

“We want something more attractive and affordable for those disgruntled agents who are not able to survive with your traditional real estate company structure,” James said.

“Just as Greg got the call to do something else, this is what we do,” Gary added.

The firm is built around decentralization. Instead of a large, plush (and expensive) central office, much of its staff work out of their own homes. Each agent has a personalized Web page within the Legacy Real Estate site.

“With technology and agents working out of their house more often than not, the big storefront isn’t as important with good customer service,” said Gary Williamson.

Services offered by Legacy Real Estate include both existing commercial and residential sales as well as new construction and investment.

The new owners are proud of their approach to the market, but also believe honesty is the key.

‘Other brokerage firms know us,” Patti said. “… We do things right, we’re trustworthy, we’re honest, and we have a reputation established in Keizer and Salem that precedes us.”

James said the company focuses on making the best use of technology, noting that nearly nine in 10 home buyers find their new house online.

Using analytic data, he said, agents can show their clients how many people clicked on their home, who is searching for homes like theirs and how many people were interested enough to seek the full details of the listing.

Including the owners, the company has 12 agents and one office staffer. They’ve got plenty of experience in the local market, with 27-year-old James having been at it since he turned 18 years old.

Gary and Patti have been working together as a team “for years,” Gary said. “We enjoy working together as a team.”

And mom Kathy, who is celebrating 20 years in the business, loves having her son working in the same office.

“I love the enthusiasm my son has brought to the business,” Kathy said.

Keizer Rapids could add land, come in city limits

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer city councilors Monday night identified land the city wants to purchase and annex into the City of Keizer.
Annexation would allow the city to bring Keizer Rapids Park into the city. It’s currently in unincorporated Marion County. In addition, annexation is necessary to use urban renewal funds for the purchase.

City councilors voted Monday, April 5, to pay $50,000 on an option agreement for some 27.89 acres of land adjacent to the park that currently serves as a filbert orchard. The land is owned by Ella Buchholz, and is to the east of the park.

The option is for six months, with payments of $10,000 a month for six months after that. Total purchase price would be $1,355,600, including a house and barn on the property.

Proceeds from the sale of urban renewal property would be used to buy the property. However, the property must be annexed into the city for that to happen, City Attorney Shannon Johnson said.

Community Development Director Nate Brown wrote in a March 2 letter to Marion County that the city is seeking an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan, which currently prohibits annexing land outside of the urban growth boundary (UGB). Keizer Rapids Park, as well as the Buchholz property, lie outside the boundary.

Brown wrote that, while his conversations with Department of Land Conservation and Development staff indicated the move wouldn’t be against the state’s land use regulations, it does conflict with the county’s rules.