City's growth brings more money and a few new employees

In the upcoming fiscal year, the city of Forest Grove is planning to add new staff, repair decrepit facilities and equipment, create a trail and install sidewalks along B Street near Harvey Clarke Elementary School.

It will also study the possibilities for partnering with other westside fire agencies, enlarging the police station, creating a new community recreation center, and developing a couple hundred new acres of land.

The city’s budget committee will review the proposed budget May 22 and May 29, revise it if necessary and pass it on to the city council for final approval in June.

"This budget was easier than previous years," said City Manager Michael Sykes, who can finally add back positions the city had to cut during the recession.

Overall, general fund operating expenses will jump more than $1 million in fiscal year 2014/2015, fueled by a revenue increase from a variety of sources, including higher property-tax revenue.

The latter comes partly from the city's growth rate — sixth fastest in Oregon last fiscal year, according to Portland State University's Population Research Center.

The flip side to such growth is that it adds pressure to the police and fire departments, where employee numbers have barely increased over the past decade, according to the budget narrative. While city population increased about 17 percent over that time, police staff rose only from 33.5 to 34.5 and fire from 20 to 21.5.

Although the city would not technically add any public-safety employees, it would resume paying for an officer who was assigned to the transit beat in 2009 (where TriMet paid his salary) in order to avoid a layoff. He will now return to patrol duties in Forest Grove.

And the fire department would get an additional $18,000 in overtime funding to ensure its minimal staffing needs of four paid firefighters per shift, with at least one officer and one paramedic among them.

Among the city’s new full-time staff would be a project manager for the engineering department, where transportation and development projects are increasing, and an information-technology manager.

The budget would also move two part-time positions — a janitor and a parks utility worker — to full time.

And the retirement of a longtime librarian at the top of the pay scale — replaced by a new one at the bottom of the scale — will help provide $15,240 for on-call services to help cover vacation and sick leave.

As far as capital projects go, the city plans to repair the police station's disastrously leaky parking lot, where rainwater has flowed into the station’s basement onto communications equipment (causing the city’s phone system to fail) and onto ballast and bullet traps in the indoor firing range.

The city would also fix problems at the aquatic center's pool deck and locker rooms and would replace the fire station’s broken HVAC system with a new one.

It also hopes to add 2.5 acres near the A.T. Smith House in the southern part of Forest Grove to its park system and to construct a trail that completes a loop between the B Street and Highway 47 trails.

Besides studying fire-agency partnerships, police-station expansion, and the possibility of a community recreation center, the budget contains a Metro grant to plan development of land that was recently brought into the city's urban-growth boundary near Purdin Road.

It also would provide money to create a strategic plan for the police department, to update a parks master plan and from transportation projects ranging from sidewalks near Harvey Clarke Elementary School on B Street to redesigning the major intersection at Highway 47 and Highway 8, to planning the Council Creek Regional Trail to adding benches at GroveLink bus stops.

The city would also buy an additional snowplow, a decision sparked by last winter’s snowstorm, Sykes said. “We found last year that we really weren’t as equipped as we needed to be.”

Overall, the budget tries to protect adequate reserves and refrain from adding too many new employees, "given the many uncertainties that lie ahead," Sykes wrote in the narrative. "We still live on a levy and we know that the economy can be like a roller coaster."

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