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Budgetary frustrations

Keizer’s government is getting ready for budget committee meetings that will commence next month. The budget committee, comprised of all seven city councilors and seven citizens, will discuss and debate the budget as presented by the city manager and the finance director. After a series of public meetings the committee will vote on the budget recommendations they will forward to the city council for final approval in June.

Every year in recent times, the city’s budget has resulted in frustration all around from committee members to councilors to residents. By its very nature a budget will disappoint people—pet projects won’t be funded. For years now, additional and needed police officers have not been funded because the city’s PERS and health insurance financial obligations take precedence.

The same is true for the city’s 19 parks. Keizer’s parks receive a mere $300,000 out of the city’s budget each year. Park supporters are doing something about it; they just finished a citizen survey to see if homeowners would get behind a surcharge to their water/sewer bills to be used solely for parks. The results were released earlier this month; the council will schedule a special meeting to look at what the next steps might be. No decision will be made on adding a surcharge without lots of input from residents via public hearings.

Is this a route police supporters can travel as well? We think it would be heavy lifting to ask homeowners to be enthusiastic about adding a second surcharge to water bills to augment current budget levels for the Keizer Police Department.

We can all be frustrated that there is not enough money to pay for the things we want. Any serious, civic-minded government will always fund what is needed first before funding what is wanted.

It is no longer a matter of living within one’s means. The city’s means are constantly chipped away with yearly increases in PERS and health insurance expenses.

The decision was made decades ago to change the tax system in Oregon, that included freezing city tax rates where they were. Our city of 37,000 operates on $2.08 per every $1,000 of property valuation. It used to be a right of bragging that Keizer had the lowest tax rate of any full service in Oregon. No one’s bragging now.

No one likes taxes. But, at the same time no one likes potholes or overgrown parks or high crime. Our taxes pay for the services we depend upon.

The city of Ontario, at the far eastern end of the state, has its own financial problems. Leaders there are taking the extraordinary step of considering adding a sales tax. Desperate times call for desperate measures. A sales tax may be a bridge too far, but we must get creative.

It would be unfortunate if the only choice left to us was to lay off city employees or close city parks or  raise fees the city charges. Barring a change in the ability to raise the city’s tax rate, we’ll have to finance city operations the old fashioned way—levies and bonds.