WL citizen committee reflects on budget process
Last summer, The Tidings visited with each of the City's advisory board chairs to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work that helps define the future of West Linn.
A year later, we're rebooting that series to learn what has changed — and what hasn't — at the advisory board level since 2016.
We continue with the Citizens' Budget Committee.
The adoption of a new biennial budget in June usually marks the end of the West Linn Citizens' Budget Committee's service for at least a year or so.
That may not be exactly the case this year, though — at least for the five citizen members who make up half of the committee alongside the five city councilors. Though West Linn formally adopted a $93.8 million budget and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the 2018-19 biennium in late June, the City may still call on budget committee members to serve on a future steering committee regarding two potential bond measures.
"So the City is discussing what its goals and objectives are," budget committee chair Todd Jones said. "Should we go to voters for continuing the current tax rate for projects in the city?"
Those bonds, according to a July 27 memo from City Manager Eileen Stein, are a 2009 parks refunding bond and a 2019 library refunding bond. In the memo, Stein said the goal is to seek voter approval of a general obligation bond — which encompasses both parks and the library — of between $15 million and $18 million in May 2018. That would keep in place the current 42 cents per $1,000 tax that is currently levied to pay the debt service on the bonds.
The last major library expense was in 2000, when voters approved a $3.9 million bond measure to remodel and expand the West Linn Public Library.
Jones cautioned nothing had been finalized with the steering committee, though the City Council was receptive to the idea when it was suggested by City Manager Eileen Stein during the budget process.
"Traditionally the role (a steering committee) plays is to make recommendation for what should actually be in the (bond) measure if it goes forward," he said. "So it seems like a logical fit because through their process, they get a good awareness of the needs for the city — both capital and operating (expenses)."
On the whole, Jones was pleased with how the budget process played out. The approved budget is slightly leaner than the previous 2016-17 budget of $98.2 million, but the city is expected to remain largely at the status quo as far as services and staffing levels. At the end of this upcoming budget cycle, in 2019, the city is expected to have an ending fund balance of just over $1.2 million.
"I credit City staff with doing a good job of preparing, and the reason I say that is we have a new city manager who has only been here about a year, and a new finance director," Jones said. "In that recipe, it can be kind of hard to do this process well. … I think they did a very nice job of not missing a beat."
This year's process, Jones added, was aided by foresight shown in the last budget discussion two years ago.
"Two years ago we found ourselves in a rare situation where we had some money to spend," Jones said. "Our former finance director (Richard Seals) was wise and prudent, he had us set aside money for contingencies and that proved pretty wise."
More than anything, Jones — a government teacher at West Linn High School — said he's happy that something like the budget committee even exists.
"That we even have the opportunity to really go through this document line item by line item … it's a credit to democracy," Jones said.