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City government — Six proposed tax, fee increases would help lower deficit, keep public services, officials say

The city of Newberg is facing a $600,000 deficit in the upcoming budget.

City Manager Lee Elliott said combined with three years of cuts, this amount is enough that without additional revenue, services will suffer. In an attempt to remedy some of the deficit and stave off additional cuts, Elliott has proposed six changes to fees and taxes. If all are approved by the City Council, they could net $510,000.

“We’re going to be bringing them forward, but it doesn’t mean council will agree to them,” he GARY ALLEN - Financial need - Newberg officials say the city is facing a $600,000 deficit going into the next fiscal year. To avoid cutting services, City Manager Lee Elliott is proposing six increases to taxes and fees.

The proposed increases include raising the Transient Lodging Tax from 6 to 9 percent, increasing planning fees by 7.5 percent, adding a stormwater franchise fee of 5 percent, adjusting the EMS fee for inflation, almost doubling the Public Safety Fee from $3 to $5.67 and increasing the Waste Management Franchise Fee to 5 percent, matching all other franchise fees.

“We either have to reduce significantly or increase revenue or both, or use some reserve to smooth this over,” he said. “A structural deficit you’ve got to do something with.”

Right now, the reserve fund is already being dipped into to cover costs, but it can only cover so much.

“You can only use so much of your savings account,” Elliott said.

Moving forward, two positions have already been cut to help with the deficit: animal control and the assistant city manager position. Elliott was serving as assistant city manager until last summer when he was tabbed to fill the city manager spot until the city could hire a replacement for Dan Danicic, who left the position after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

“I’m leaving in 60 days to help with the deficit,” Elliott said. “It’s weird firing yourself.”

Cutting the two positions will put $120,000 back into the general fund, money the city desperately needs.

“The administration the last three years tried to delay things on purpose, hoping revenue would come up,” he said. “Well the revenue, it’s just not recovering as quickly. The state’s getting better, well they’re income tax based. Cities in the south are sales tax based, they’ve recovered as well. We’re property tax based. We’d expected to last least catch up to inflation, but were 1.3 percent behind.”

But if the revenue enhancements are improved, at least one new position will be added.

“The only proposed new position that is in the general fund budget is we need another dispatcher on the communication side of public safety,” Elliott said. “We’re spending enough on overtime right now to pay an entire employee. If we have anybody ill or on vacation, or just somebody their car breaks down, people are working a lot more hours.”

Janelle Nordyke, finance director, said dispatchers are only supposed to work eight-hour shifts, because any more and they aren’t as responsive and effective.

“But yet they work so much overtime they’re working 12-hour shifts,” Nordyke said.

The added position would help alleviate some of the overtime and reduce the stress on the employees.

Elliott said although the additional fees and taxes may sound unappealing, it’s the only option for the city.

“We realize people are still struggling financially; it’s not easiest time necessarily to say, `Oh your bills going up,” he said. “You’re starting to see the local economy going up. If we start cutting services is that really going to help the local economy? There a lot of factors that lead into it. The key is getting these revenue enhancements there to keep up with inflation.”

If the increases aren’t enough, there are a few other options to relieve fiscal stress. Three options Elliott suggested are a public safety levy, a library levy and a local food and beverage tax.

“We’re a retail-based, tourism-based city. Property taxes are providing the services. If you don’t have a consumption tax and are bringing in people to your community you’re actually subsidizing them,” he said. “So you can look at diversification of the tax base.”

The proposed increases will be discussed at the May 19 Newberg City Council meeting. Elliott said they are open for input and encourages residents to participate in the discussion. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Public Safety Building.

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