West Linn budget: City plans a plethora of new positions
After hours of budget presentations and back-and-forth discussions about legal expenses, police body cameras and economic recovery funds, the city of West Linn has adopted its biennial budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
The $137 million budget includes funds for a police oversight entity and five new city staffers, including a behavioral health specialist, an emergency response manager and an economic development coordinator.
The Citizens Budget Committee, which is made up of the five members of West Linn's City Council and five citizens, unanimously approved the biennial budget at a meeting Wednesday, May 26.
City to hire emergency manager
City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos noted in his budget message to the CBC that the first email he sent to West Linn staff after he was hired last fall concerned the wildfires that were then devastating the state. Five months later, Gabrielatos noted, the city was grappling with the worst ice storm it had seen in 40 years.
For Gabrielatos and the City Council, these events drove home the importance of implementing an idea the city had considered for a number of years: hiring a staff person to help manage and prepare for disasters.
Finance Director Lauren Briethaupt explained that during the last biennium, the city decided to not to fill the vacant deputy city recorder position. The budget for that position will now go toward the emergency manager position.
Funds allocated for body cameras
Though the city has not yet decided to purchase body cameras for police officers to wear while on duty, the CBC set aside $110,000 for that purpose.
Councilor Mary Baumgardner and CBC member Abby Farber both noted they initially liked the idea of officers wearing cameras, but upon further research, questioned their efficacy.
"There is evidence out there that says it's cosmetically great but it's not actually reducing use-of-force situations," Farber said.
Police Captain Oddis Rollins told the CBC that body cameras would not solve all of the police department's problems, but he suggested thinking of the devices as another tool to improve operations.
Rollins said most police departments notice complaints against officers decrease and positive interactions and professionalism increase when cameras are used. He added that most of West Linn's neighboring police agencies use either body cameras, patrol vehicle cameras or both.
According to Gabrielatos, the cameras themselves are not expensive; the most costly part of using officer body cameras is the storage of data from the cameras. The $110,000 allocated would likely cover the costs of the cameras and saving footage.
Rollins also said that because requiring officers to wear body cameras would mark a change in working conditions, the proposition must be negotiated with the police union. The city is currently in the middle of bargaining with Clackamas County Peace Officers' Association, the union representing West Linn's sworn officers.
Breithaupt said budgeting in the midst of negotiations is difficult because potential cost increases from the new contract are unknown. But, she explained, the department tried to budget for any increase in costs by taking into account cost-of-living increases.
Legal services budget decreases
Initially, the biennial budget proposed by staff included $490,000 per year for the city's legal services. The CBC decided, however, to reduce that amount to $400,000 annually. Several members of the budget committee expressed concern about both the amount initially budgeted for city attorney services and the rate the city currently pays for work by City Attorney Tim Ramis and his firm, Jordan Ramis PC.
Councilor Todd Jones pointed out that the city had never spent more than $200,000 per year on legal services before fiscal year 2019, and spent only $80,000 in fiscal year 2014.
The legal expenses suddenly jumped to over $426,000 in fiscal year 2020 and $490,000 in fiscal year 2021.
According to Gabrielatos, the proposed $490,000 per year for legal services was based on expenses for the past fiscal year. However, he noted that for the past several months legal service costs have trended below $33,000 per month, which would equate to $400,000 per year.
Mayor Jules Walters called the rates for legal services astronomical and suggested some of the proposed $490,000 could better be spent on other personnel or services, like an economic development director.
The legal services line item falls under the City Council budget. However, there is a separate line item under the human resources budget for employment-related legal services like union negotiations.
Local groups want economic development director
Using the $90,000 cut from the legal services budget, the city will hire an economic development coordinator.
Though this position was not initially proposed in the budget, the CBC heeded a request from the West Linn Chamber of Commerce and Historic Willamette Main Street to fund the new staff position.
This employee will work with and support West Linn businesses in an effort to spur economic development in the community.
During testimony at the first CBC meeting, Drew Hanson, who chairs the city's Economic Development Committee, said adding this position could help the city diversify its economic base, make the local economy less vulnerable and bring in more tax dollars to raise the overall standard of living.
In addition to the diverted legal services money, the position's salary and benefits will be covered by a transfer of $60,000 from the parks department to the general fund. This person will have a salary of about $65,000 while their benefits could cost around $100,000 or more.
City to make additional hires
In addition to the emergency manager and economic development position, the city will also hire a behavioral health specialist to work with the police department, a public works communications coordinator, a Geographic Information System specialist and two more parks maintenance staffers in the new biennium.
The city is currently working on an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Lake Oswego to use the services of Amber Hambrick, who was hired by LOPD in April to help respond to mental health calls. Hambrick will help with such calls in both West Linn and Lake Oswego and provide mental health training to both departments.
The public works communications coordinator will assist in engaging the community before and during major city projects. According to Gabrielatos, much of this work is currently done by Community Relations Coordinator Alicia Shroyer and Assistant to the City Manager Dylan Digby, but, as Gabrielatos noted, they both have many other responsibilities. Hiring a new communications person for major projects would free up Shroyer and Digby for other important work, Gabrielatos explained.
The GIS specialist will help the public works department keep pace with GIS work.
To help cover maintenance needs in the city's 550 acres of parks and open space, the CBC allocated funds for two additional parks maintenance positions. Though the budget originally proposed one additional hire, Parks and Recreation Director Ken Warner told the CBC that to adequately cover all needs in the city's parks to the standard that people expect, he'd need about three more maintenance staff members.
Compared to neighboring cities, Warner noted, West Linn's parks department is on the lower end of staffing levels per acreage.
The CBC granted two of those staff members by raising the city's parks maintenance fee by 16%. Usually, this fee, which is paid monthly by all residents, goes up by 5% per year.
What else is in the budget?
One major change to this biennial budget is funding allocated to the city as relief for the coronavirus pandemic. In his budget message, Gabrielatos noted that the pandemic had not had a drastic effect on the city's finances.
He noted that last year the city received $836,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (CARES Act) funding, most of which was spent on emergency grants to local businesses.
More pandemic aid, $5.4 million of it, is coming, Gabrielatos shared. The city expects to receive half of that money, which is from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress this spring, in June and the second half in fiscal year 2022.
The federal government is still working on specific guidelines for what this money can be used for, but staff noted it had to be used for pandemic-related losses and expenses.
Another new expense in the coming biennium is funds for the city's new police oversight entity.
The city allocated $40,000 per year for this entity, which is yet to be formed but has been in the works for the past year.
You can view the budget as originally proposed here. The final budget with the CBC's amendments is forthcoming.
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