By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
City leaders are no longer waiting for the economic conditions to improve.
After several years of either staying even or cutting positions, the proposed 2014-15 budget presented at Tuesday night’s Keizer Budget Committee meeting calls for the addition of three new positions.
That was one of the top topics of conversation as city manager Chris Eppley presented the $36,534,600 budget.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of at least three, with additional meetings set for May 8 and 13. If necessary, a fourth meeting will be held May 20. All meetings start at 6 p.m. in council chambers at Keizer Civic Center.
The three new proposed positions are a computer forensics person for the police department, a code enforcement officer and an information system technician.
“While stable economic indicators continue, the city is mindful to ensure that all increases in service level are sustainable into the near future,” Eppley said. “We are not into the business of offering services that are not sustainable long-term. That leads to making cuts down the road, which erodes public confidence.”
The tax rate is staying at $2.08 per $1,000 of assessed value, while property tax revenue is expected to increase 2.7 percent. Charges for services are expected to go up 6 percent, which includes a proposed 4.5 percent water rate increase and a 5 percent sewer rate increase.
Wages for the 93 current city employees are projected to increase 2.5 percent, for an overall increase of $500,000. Providing the same level of health and welfare benefits to the employees will increase about 12 percent.
A notable change in the budget is the debt obligations dropping from $9 million this fiscal year to $4 million next year, primarily due to a $3.7 million principal payment on Keizer Station Local Improvement District debt.
Eppley noted the extra funds come after years of tight budgets that resulted in some layoffs and positions not being filled.
“Everyone took on a little bit more work,” he said. “That takes a toll on staff.”
Eppley said city leaders use “moderate” assumptions in terms of budget projections.
“The city believes this is the appropriate balance between mitigating risk and allowing the city to provide a responsible level of service,” he said.
Eppley also shared a hiring plan for the next five fiscal years. In addition to the three projected for the coming year, he would like to make three more hires the following year. Two of those new positions would be police officers, while the third would be converting the current limited-duration community center coordinator position into a full-time job.
“That coordinator position really needs to become a full-time position,” Eppley said. “That’s been an incredible add, both to our capacity and to customer service.”
After a year of no additions, Eppley would like to see one officer added in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years.
Police chief John Teague said forensic investigations currently get farmed out to other agencies, with a long turnaround time.
“We need to have that in-house,” said Teague, noting a detective currently splits time between detective duties and forensics. “We can gain one-third to one-half a detective back by bringing this position in.”
Adding a second IT person to help out Bill Hopkins – the wrong name was mentioned in an April 25 article – has been discussed at length lately and was so again on Tuesday.
“This is a $30 million organization with one IT person,” mayor Lore Christopher said. “One! No other organization does that. If the IT system goes down, we’re dead in the water.”