Cornelius adopts budget with eye towards population growth
The Cornelius City Council unanimously passed a $69.5 million budget Monday, June 6 with new personnel and infrastructure aimed at accommodating a growing community.
The population of Cornelius grew from 11,020 in 2010 to an estimated 13,498 in 2021 — a 22.5% increase -- and city officials say the majority of that growth occurred in the last five years.
"A city isn't just a police department and fire department. We are many things. We want to make sure when people turn the tap on the water comes out. God forbid you go to flush and it doesn't flush," City Manager Rob Drake said. "When the road gets damaged, we repair it. When it rains hard, our storm drains work because we follow standards. We're many things to many people. All that work becomes a little more complicated and a little more costly with growth."
At over $3.1 million, police — contracted through the Washington County Sheriff's Office — are the largest expense from the $15.4 million taken from Cornelius' general fund.
The Cornelius city government will field 48.5 full-time positions in all — not including the police department, which is adding one officer to bring staffing up to 14 full-time police officers. Mayor Jef Dalin said the city is following a national standard of employing one officer per 1,000 residents.
"Adding another officer has to do with our massive growth. We looked at the city's expansion and said 'hey time to add another officer'," Dalin said. "I get clear feedback: Do not fall into the Portland model where if something happens, people can choose to fill out a form or a complaint online. We want the officers to be able to respond in person and on time. We don't want, 'I'm sorry, please fill out a form, so at some point we can generate a case number.'"
Cornelius will still outsource municipal court services, as the budget also calls for the continuation of a partnership in which citations issued in Cornelius are heard in Forest Grove Municipal Court.
The city also added one utility employee. The budget document notes utility fees could rise sometime in the coming year, as Clean Water Services has announced a likely fee increase for stormwater and sewer services.
Cornelius' population has grown since last year thanks to the Laurel Woods project, a development which includes over 900 homes that began construction in 2018 and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2023. So far, Drake said 649 homes are built or under construction, some of which are occupied.
This fiscal year, the city government will fund the engineering and permitting for a pedestrian bridge connecting a new 6.5-acre park in the Laurel Woods subdivision with nearby homes. The cost for that alone is $1.1 million, more than many entire city departments. The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2024.
The budget document says Walmart is the city's top employer with 321 employees. Fred Meyer with 269 employees and Sheldon Manufacturing with 111 are the only other employers with over 50 Cornelius residents on the payroll.
"We continue to try to attract and develop business. … Historically we have struggled with that a little bit," Dalin said. "We continue to try to break out of the bedroom community mold, but also that is something we've been really good at."
Compared to most communities in the Portland area, Cornelius is poorer and more racially diverse. With about 53% of the population identifying as Hispanic or Latino, it is one of the few "minority-majority" cities in Oregon, in which non-Hispanic whites don't comprise a majority of residents. The budget document also notes fewer than 20% of Cornelius residents had a bachelor's degree in 2020, compared to almost 34% of all Oregon residents.
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