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Sunset clause added to city fee hikes; some still displeased

Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer City Council got an earful from a few displeased residents over the fee and rate increases used to balance the upcoming city budget.

Some, like a sewer franchise fee increase, was expressly intended to balance the general fund budget. Councilor Brandon Smith successfully amended this, along with a new stormwater utility fee, to sunset in one year, meaning they would fall back to 5 percent in one year. Because the two increases didn’t pass unanimously – Councilors David McKane and Mark Caillier voted no – they’ll be back for second reading at the Council’s June 21 meeting.

Others, like raising the stormwater utility rate, were described as essential to meeting state and federal clean water mandates.

All in all the impact to Keizer’s utility customers will be about $26 per year, Finance Director Susan Gahlsdorf said.

While the all-funds budget – which includes funds for utilities, streets and other non-general fund revenues – increased by some 9.6 percent, City Manager Chris Eppley pointed out that the general fund actually decreased by about $270,000.

Ross Nelson was unimpressed. He testified at Monday’s Council meeting, saying that staffing and spending levels should match the city’s population growth.

“My salary is identical to what it was in 2007. In fact, it’s lower because my benefits have been cut … You need to have the courage to cut more,” Nelson said.

“There’s nothing harder than laying someone off,” testified Sandi King, who was vice-chair of this year’s budget committee, “… but there comes a time that either via attrition or layoffs, something has to give.”

While Keizer’s property tax rates are frozen at $2.08 per $1,000, Dwight Reinwald testified that a fee increase is analogous to a tax.

“I don’t buy the shell game. … A tax by any other term is a tax,” he said.

Some councilors defended the fee increases, noting that more than $250,000 was actually cut, mostly from materials and services and by freezing pay of non-union staff.

“Our economy has changed the way some people behave,” said Cathy Clark, a council member. “And we need a police presence. … I’m going to vote in favor of this because I believe it’s important we maintain the police services we have to keep folks like my senior mother safe.”

Mayor Lore Christopher also played the mom card, saying hers was disappointed in the fee increases, and also took a dig at the Keizer Police Association – the officers’ union – for not accepting a pay freeze.

“Our police officers had the option of not taking that 2 percent increase and they elected not to do that,” Christopher said. “And that has cost all of us.”

Councilor Richard Walsh said he knew supporting the fee hikes would make him a target, but warned that further cuts would take a heavy toll.

“If we take away one more thousand dollars, the next place was taking out all the bathrooms in our parks,” he said. “… Those are the types of things we’ll be losing if we try to make up $150,000 more than we’ve already cut.”