The proposed 2018-19 budget also includes money for public outreach efforts, water service upgrades

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Completion of the Crooked River Wetland Complex coupled with budgeted water and wastewater improvements this fiscal year could result in lower utility customer rates.

The City of Prineville proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget is complete and was presented to the budget committee and the public Tuesday evening.

All 300 pages of it.

The document, which was designed to engage readers and features numerous photos and graphs, highlights a variety of changes as the city moves forward into the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The overall amount budgeted for the coming year is $50.696 million, representing an uptick from the previous fiscal year when the city budgeted $47.923 million. According to City Finance Director Liz Schuette, noteworthy funding increases include money for the hire of two new police officers. She notes that $4.729 million is proposed for the police department, which is actually a slight decrease from the prior fiscal year when the agency was provided $4.734 million. However, $433,000 of last year's budget paid for the acquisition of several new police vehicles.

City Manager Steve Forrester acknowledged that the police department could always use even more staff than what is recently proposed in the budget, but he believes the additions "move the needle in the right direction" and brings them close to pre-recession staffing levels.

He noted that the new officers will help them to increase the city's involvement in the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) team.

"That is something we haven't been able to participate in at the level that we want and need to," he said.

No other funding is set aside in the budget for personnel increases, but Forrester stressed that city leaders prefer not to add positions and instead cross-train existing staff and provide services as efficiently as possible.

"We are very conservative about adding people to our staff, especially administrative staff," he said.

Funding increases instead went toward such needs as street maintenance and the completion of various capital projects. The street department's capital improvement budget rose from $1.754 million last fiscal year to a proposed $2.050 million for 2018-19.

"They got a bump in gas tax. The State of Oregon has increased the dollars that come to the street department," Schuette said. "We are also transferring $400,000 from general fund into the street department."

The finance director points out that the transfer is made possible by the electrical franchise fees collected from Prineville's two data centers. The fees, which are based on power consumption, have risen well beyond $1 million annually in recent years.

"The (City) Council has a policy that they would like to spend the franchise fees on capital improvements, and our streets need attention," Schuette said.

The city is also planning to commit more funding to its ongoing branding and public relations effort. Forrester explained that two years ago, city staff began investing in improving its public outreach. The city council felt the municipality could do a better job of trumpeting its accomplishments.

The city consequently set aside some money to hire professional public relations assistance and has committed resources to improving its social media presence and messaging through other outlets. More recently, they have been working toward development of a city brand.

"The city does not want to lose our heritage and our culture," Forrester explained, adding that the community was built on a foundation of hard-working cowboys, loggers and farmers. "That's who we are, so part of our branding effort … is to always be respectful, pay homage to, and not forget where we came from and why we're here."

Forrester acknowledged that funding for the branding effort is a very small percentage of the budget overall, but the city has proposed to commit more funding to it this year versus last.

Other noteworthy efforts funded in the budget include the piping of treated wastewater from the valley floor up to the Apple data center for industrial use, and the continued exploration of water storage in the aquifer below the Prineville Airport and surrounding land. Forrester said funding such efforts could help the city better withstand drought cycles in the future.

Those projects coupled with the completion of the wetland wastewater facility last year puts the city in position to work on water conservation efforts and revise the way people are charged for the utility, Forrester said.

"This year, we have the opportunity to lower costs for a lot of our customers," he added.

Going into the next fiscal year, Forrester said the city's budgeting situation "continues to be extremely positive," but he stresses that the situation won't last indefinitely. For this reason, city leaders continue to place a premium on keeping reserve accounts adequately funded so that they can avoid layoffs or scaling back city services. He points out that 12 of the 13 reserve funds are currently at or exceeding city policy.

"We are preparing ourselves to be able to weather the next economic downturn," he said.

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