Fire dept., pathways on list of concerns for budget committee
Members of the Lake Oswego City Budget Committee, including appointed members and city councilors, will meet next Thursday, May 9 to finalize and approve the City's budget for the 2019-2021 biennium and set the City's property tax rate.
At its most recent meeting April 25, the budget committee heard presentations from City Manager Scott Lazenby and Finance Director Shawn Cross on the status of the tax financing budget for projects attached to urban renewal districts through the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency, as well as the overall proposed budget and City's financial health.
Using his patented "plumber" metaphor, Lazenby discussed how he turns proverbial valves to open the flow of funds into departments that need more and close valves where departments are set with what they have.
According to Lazenby, the $392 million budget, similar to past years, is a "hold-the-line" budget, meaning they're not adding or taking away services from anywhere.
"The reason for that is, as you know in our forecasting we've looked to the future and realized we need to be careful," Lazenby told the committee. "We're absorbing a major round of PERS rate increases, but there's one more coming. We know that's going to happen; our forecast shows if we're careful and inflation stays low, we ought to be able to absorb that as well, but we have to be disciplined."
Two of the items that came up in the committee's discussion, however, were in regards to the efficiency of the Fire Department's budget and potentially finding more money to go toward pathways, particularly as they relate to safe routes to school.
Budget committee member Al Calabria expressed curiosity over the Fire Department's lack of a plan to bring costs down, particularly as it relates to personnel. It's a hot-button issue that arose in late 2018 and ended with the ouster of former fire chief Larry Goff over his refusal to bring Lazenby a plan to cut back in some way, shape or form.
Lazenby reminded the committee that Fire Chief Don Johnson has only been in his role for four months. According to Lazenby, Johnson is currently working on strategies to bring costs down, but it's going to take more time to find a solution.
The council and appointed members agreed they trust Johnson in finding that solution in the next several months.
City Councilor Jackie Manz raised the point that its always been a goal of the council to improve pathways and routes for children to get to school safely, but they haven't seen a ton of progress on that front.
She suggested adding an extra $350,000 toward pathways, potentially from streets or parks
"We do have this list of pathways, it's three pages long. Some citizens will look at that and say 'why aren't we doing anything?'" Manz said. "I really think with that many projects on the books, we need to take a look at it and decide if in fact we're going to fund them or not. Usually when something is a council goal and it's doable, it gets funded."
Councilor John LaMotte agreed, but he suggested hearing from City Engineer Erica Rooney on why those pathways weren't added into the budget for this biennium.
According to Lazenby, Rooney is scheduled to speak to the committee at its meeting next Thursday where she'll give a presentation on that very topic and several others.
LaMotte pointed to one particular proposal to create safe walking paths along Jean Road where the new Lakeridge Middle School is set to start construction.
The committee kicked around the idea of approaching the Lake Oswego School District to work cooperatively in identifying projects like Jean Road that would have a high amount of impact in improving safe routes to school.
The committee decided to wait to hear from Rooney before making a decision to reallocate funds toward pathways, and will make a decision at the May 9 meeting.
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