By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Fee increases, ongoing cuts and pay freezes will stabilize a city general fund that is falling about $178,000 short for the coming fiscal year in the city manager’s proposed budget.

And while Keizer Police will be reducing overtime and eliminating non-mandatory training, in the proposed budget they will not be forced to lay off a police officer. The budget committee and city council previously indicated supporting a cop cut at an April work session, but that appears to be off the table.

“That was going into the budget,” said City Manager Chris Eppley. “I actually took that out based on conversations I had after the fact with councilors, committee members and citizens generally. … Although they identified that as a direction to go, the community probably wasn’t going to be willing to stomach that kind of approach.”

City leaders said at a Budget Committee hearing Tuesday the increases to the sewer franchise fee – and the creation of a stormwater franchise fee – would average about $13.14 per household per year.

And with ongoing cuts – in addition to overtime and salary freezes, the Keizer Community Library, parks and other programs are expected to suffer – city staff believe the general fund will weather the storm created by a bad economy and subsequent lower-than-expected revenues.

“We used to say that revenues we forecasted conservatively,” Eppley said. “Unfortunately they’re just aren’t that many revenues to be forecasted.”

Things are tough all over, it seemed, as the annual tradition of local do-gooders begging the committee for scraps – $1,500 for neighborhood association printing and postage here, $1,700 to pay part of the library’s rent – went on.

Stella Horsley represented the library. She said that $19,200 set aside for a library district ballot measure study should be put back in the manager’s budget, as the group was getting closer to matching the amount.

She also said the library serves mostly populations

without the time, means or energy to get to the Salem Library.

“It is not in the public interest to ignore these people,” Horsley said.

Jeanne Bond-Esser and Vickie Hilgemann appeared to represent parks’ interests. (See related story.)

Krina Lemons, director of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, asked for $1,000 to continue supplementing the after-school program, formerly known as the POWER program.

While acknowledging Keizer’s contribution wouldn’t be the difference, she said losing the after-school program could jeopardize a federal program that feeds dinner to low-income children.

“I would never put a police budget, a streets budget, the chamber of commerce, the libraries or even port-a-potties at risk,” Lemons said. “But I will say an extra $1,000 says, ‘Our community invests an extra $5 per child to keep them safe … and to keep our streets safe as well,” noting 4,600 meals were served to Claggett Creek Middle students from September 2009 to March 2010.

The West Keizer Neighborhood Association asked for funds to keep doing mailers to their members, and the Keizer Art Association asked for an amount to purchase art for the Winter Art Solstice and Mayor’s Art Invitational next year.

All these items will be considered at later budget meetings. If these were added back in, it would add to the budget deficit.

This story was printed before the Thursday, May 7, budget meeting.

Budget committee members offered up other ways to cut costs, including closing city hall early or on certain days, furlough days or layoffs. Councilor Richard Walsh questioned whether the assistant to the city manager position was necessary.

Walsh said the position was created when the city was still handling Keizer Station and building the civic center.

“This position is over $100,000 in total costs to the city per year,” Walsh said. “… We’re scrapping over $1,500 here and there. I’m wondering if there isn’t an opportunity to look there.”

Eppley said Kevin Watson, who is the assistant to the city manager, works on a variety of different department projects and is also the city’s emergency manager. If his position were cut, Eppley said, the police would have to take over that function again, and the police captain who used to do it is no longer with the city. The captain’s position remains unfilled, Eppley said, meaning police would have to fit it in when they say they’re already short-staffed.

He also said Watson manages the community center, a duty that would likely fall to him if Watson’s position was cut.

David Dempster, a committee member, said some city positions may need to be cut once the urban renewal district sunsets. Others called for furloughs.