Reductions could alter how LO does business

Economic development, public affairs, long-range planning, sustainability and the annual pet parade are all potentially on the chopping block as the Lake Oswego Budget Committee works out a spending plan for the next fiscal year.

The committee, made up of the six city councilors, the mayor and seven citizen members will continue hashing out the spending plan at 6 p.m. today at city hall, 380 A Ave.

Like the current fiscal year’s budget, the $421 million spending plan proposed April 18 by City Manager Tom Coffee for 2013-14 largely holds the line on programs and services.

However, a handful of “decision packages” unveiled April 25 target specific services — and employees — for elimination.

Some services would be scaled back as a result, while other tasks and duties would shift to different employees, mostly in the city manager’s office. The idea is to rein in ongoing spending on salaries and benefits, which account for the lion’s share of general fund expenditures each year.

At a meeting last week, Coffee said all of the employees are hard workers whose positions were added for good reasons.

“But when you get to the question of managing your personnel complement,” he said, “these are the kinds of questions that have (to be) asked.”

In addition, he said, cutting back on spending is “the general thrust of the new council majority.”

In all, the city has about 360 employees, including police and fire personnel. Coffee’s proposed budget already reflected a net decrease of the equivalent of about three and a half full-time employees by eliminating vacant positions.

His proposed “decision packages” push that number higher, slicing about 11 positions from the city’s roster.

He said that could free up money for some major equipment purchases and street maintenance projects coming down the pike.

The situation

Growth in property tax revenues is gradually falling behind the city’s rising costs to pay employees, in part because of ballooning retirement and health insurance expenses.

In addition, the city typically relies on its fund balance — money left at the end of the fiscal year — to cover expenses. But the amount left over on an annual basis has been on the decline, Coffee said. That trend has Lake Oswego on a path to some major budget deficits.

Still, some of the projected gaps might not be as bad as they looked early in the 2013-14 budgeting process.

While the spending plan was built around a proposed property tax rate reduction, the proposal’s original proponent, Councilor Jeff Gudman now says he no longer feels that reduction is a prudent move for the city. Eliminating the tax rate cut from next year’s spending plan would restore $800,000 to the budget.

Also, contributions to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System might not be as giant as expected; the city could save about a million dollars if state lawmakers approve proposed changes to PERS.

Reductions proposed

The committee might not end up recommending all of Coffee’s proposed cuts. And the committee might not add some new programs he also suggested last week. But it did agree to consider them all along with other ideas proposed as budget “decision packages” last week.

Coffee’s proposed cuts target:

  • Economic development — The city could eliminate the economic development program, cutting an existing full-time development project manager as well as a vacant administrative assistant position and reducing support for regional business recruitment, limiting outreach aiming to retain and expand existing businesses and ending the city’s involvement in a public-private marketing effort.

    The department also oversees the city’s two urban renewal areas, and so some economic development employees would remain.

    Savings is estimated at $71,000 to $129,000 annually in the first two years.

  • Parks and recreation — Several positions already planned for elimination in the proposed budget include a community events specialist and seasonal and temporary staffing at the golf and tennis facilities. Coffee would also get rid of one of four recreation program supervisors, as well a parks utility worker after that person’s planned retirement. He noted that whittling down events coordinators will affect what the city offers, and, when looking at the overall list, the pet parade ranked low.

    Savings is estimated at $143,000 to $210,000 annually over the next two years.

  • Planning and building services — While the number of planners working on current, or short-term, projects would stay level, the city could cut three of its six long-range planners. Asked if this reduction could affect whether Lake Oswego is involved in regional planning and transportation issues, Coffee said the city isn’t interested in absorbing much regional growth, and the city manager or planning director could participate in some Metro meetings.

    Savings is estimated at $232,000 to $412,000 annually over the first two years.

  • Public affairs — The city could eliminate its public affairs manager and scale back and redistribute the workload, shifting website management duties to the city manager’s office and information technology department, media and public relations duties to the city recorder, city manager and other management staff, legislative and intergovernmental work to other staff and departments and handle special projects on a case-by-case basis.

    Savings is estimated at $101,000 to $177,000 annually over two years.

  • Sustainability — The city could cut a full-time employee overseeing sustainability efforts and an intern and terminate its memberships and affiliations with an international association of government groups supporting environmental sustainability and Natural Step. In that case, staff support to the sustainability advisory board would be reduced to a minimal level; outreach events such as community cleanup and recycling days and the 100-mile challenge, which encourages people to travel without cars, would be reduced; energy efficiency and conservation initiatives, including staff trainings and developing sustainability and green building policies, would end; and regional coordination on sustainability efforts would be reduced to levels required by law.

    Savings is estimated at $62,000 to $108,000 annually over two years.

    Coffee also recommends additions

    Coffee’s decision packages also include some new programs, which would add new expenses. These include:

  • Tree maintenance — While the city funds some invasive species removal and maintenance of trees in parks and open spaces, it has neglected invasive species and unhealthy trees along the city’s streets, Coffee said.

    Coffee proposed establishing a maintenance program for trees in the rights of way for $50,000.

  • Sensitive lands — The city council is continuing to modify Lake Oswego’s program limiting development and use of environmentally sensitive areas, and a complete overhaul would require a lot of staff time. Coffee proposed hiring a consultant in the planning department for $80,000.

    Additional changes up for deliberation

    The committee is taking public input at the beginning and end of its meetings, and budget committee members are able to propose “puts” and “takes” for deliberation.

    On April 25, committee members sponsored some additional initiatives, putting them on the list for a future discussion: buying Hallinan Woods for $750,000 in hopes of selling part of the property and preserving the rest; giving the Lake Oswego School District $150,000 to subsidize funding for its swimming pool; providing $90,000 toward a $150,000 effort to install artificial turf on the infield of the east Waluga baseball field.

    In addition, Gudman proposed spending $1.3 million to offer city utility customers a $100 credit during the summer.

    Citizen Janine Dunphy voiced support for cutting back parks and recreation programs, especially those offered at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

    “When senior centers were established in the ‘40s, they were established to take care of low-income seniors,” Dunphy said. “As with any government program this has grown way beyond the original intent.”

    She said “faith-based and private-sector” programs should “take care of health, fitness and social activities for all citizens, and not just seniors.”

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