Options to raise funds to pay for communications upgrade are limited as city government criticized for potential sale

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - A proposal to sell the building housing the Newberg Animal Shelter has caused some local residents to cry foul as city government attempts to raise the funds it needs for upgrades to its communication system required by its inclusion in the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency.

Concern is rising among some local residents that the city is considering selling the Newberg Animal Shelter. Supporters attend the council meetings wearing matching t-shirts and wonder who is going to take care of the lost and loved pets and why is this all happening. Like a shock wave of the unexpected, residents describe to the City Council the blood, sweat and tears the community exerted to build the shelter into a safe place for the animals. In turn, the council listens and follows up with questions or expresses its input.

At the Jan. 16 council meeting, City Manager Joe Hannan explained that the city is awaiting an appraisal on the facility. Newberg Animal Shelter Friends has requested a right of first refusal (meaning they would get first shot at purchasing the building).

The public was reminded that the reason the city is considering selling the shelter is to raise funds to retire the $3.15 million in debt it incurred as a result of its communications upgrade with Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency. In short, the city does not have the money.

In a long range financial plan presented at the Newberg Citizen's Rate Review Committee on Jan. 25, one of the challenges addressed is how to pay the $3.15 million debt. It was noted that the communications upgrade was the council's No. 1 priority and consists of antennas, radios, dispatch equipment and a computer-aided dispatch upgrade.

In addition to the sale of the animal shelter, options to raise funds also include the sale of the Butler property across from city hall, with a report expected on that possibility due in February. The sale of former Newberg Fire Department equipment, as well as transfer of the Springbrook fire station and an additional lot, could also raise some funds, but that scenario is on hold pending TVF&R's annexation of Newberg into its district as ratified by the district's voters in March.

A total of five options are being explored to increase the revenue that is needed. One of the options is to increase the franchise fees the city charges utility companies to operate here from 5 to 7 percent, which could yield $300,000 to $325,000 in additional revenue.

Other options include a public safety fee increase from $5 in the current biennium to $15 in 2018-2019 and $20 in 2019-2010. The public safety fee increase would add $2 million back into the general fund by 2022. Other considerations are a local option levy of $1 to $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed value and would add to the general fund more than $2 million.

City officials said the best bang for the buck would be a local option levy and a franchise fee increase. Ultimately, the council will decide which is the best path for the city and that decision is still to come.

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