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Decision driven by desire to increase staff efficiency, growing duration and complexity of city projects and more

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Decision to switch to a biennial budget driven by desire to increase staff efficiency, growing duration and complexity of city projects and more.

When it comes to budgeting, the City of Prineville has decided that two years is better than one.

The municipality made the decision this year to switch from an annual budget to a biennial one in hopes of increasing staff efficiencies and to better budget multi-year capital projects as well as better align with the State of Oregon's biennial budget.

"I think it is going to free up staff and not just the finance staff," said City Finance Director Liz Schuette. "It's a big process to put the budget together every year. The finance department starts in December then everybody really gets involved at the first part of February. Then it goes through until the end of June."

Schuette says that is a huge amount of time during the year to focus on expenditures, how the year will end financially, what the city will do in the next fiscal year and more.

"I think doing it every other year will allow us to focus more on long-range planning and getting some of those pieces in place prior to the biennial budget," she said.

The adopted Biennial Budget for 2020-21 totals $84,823,512, of which $15,410,486 is allocated for the general fund. In his budget message, City Manager Steve Forrester notes that this year, the city is adjusting its employment from 70.16 full-time equivalents (FTE) to 71.00.

"This is an increase of 0.84 FTEs," he wrote. "Changes to funds include minus 0.25 in public safety fund, an increase of 0.09 in emergency dispatch, an increase of 1.0 FTE in the railroad, minus 2.0 FTE in restaurant operations, plus 1.0 FTE in IT, and plus 1.0 FTE in public works services."

Forrester said that despite recent improvement in the city's financial condition in recent years and the growth in terms of budget dollars, they have opted not to add much more personnel.

"We are still a small city, so we really don't want to have silos of responsibilities," he said, "so a lot of our folks are cross-trained and that has enabled us to keep our personnel low compared to other cities and keep our efficiencies up."

Schuette and Forrester both stress that going to a biennial budget should help them achieve that goal by reducing the amount of staff time committed annually to the budget. In addition, they believe the two-year approach will make more sense when dealing with projects that Forrester said had been spilling into the next fiscal year. Examples include the Crooked River Wetland Complex, which took more than a year to complete, and the upcoming move to and renovation of a new police department building, which will take between 18 and 24 months. Also, it gives the city some flexibility when it comes to street maintenance.

"We might have years where it is more cost-effective for us to take a year off and do a $1.5 million project over a summer and get economics of scale as a result of combining two years into one budget process," Forrester said.

In addition to prioritizing capital projects, city leaders hope to address some future challenges as they move ahead with biennial budgets. These include helping develop and recruit new businesses to the area and adding family-wage jobs to the Prineville economy. Forrester explained that while the city does not have a direct role in business recruitment, the emphasis on capital projects helps them provide the type of infrastructure that is needed to attract new companies to the area.

Other challenges include maintenance of debt service reserves in every fund, Schuette said, and increasing capital reserves so the city doesn't have to seek tax bonds for projects.

"We are very lean," Forrester said. "We are trying to position the city to be able to make it through a downturn in the economy."

Other challenges highlighted in Forrester's budget message include strengthening funding for public safety and update the aging Police/911 Dispatch building, managing the Meadow Lakes Golf Course fund to support long-term capitalization needs, and effectively addressing increasing low-cost housing opportunities within the community.

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