By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Sobering financial news greeted a task force dedicated to prioritizing the city of Keizer’s long-term budget trajectory.

New franchise fee projections indicate the city may receive $100,000-plus less than initially projected. Susan Gahlsdorf, the city’s finance director, said the budgeted estimates fell short even after predicting a 20 percent decline.

“It’s consumption,” Gahlsdorf told the group, made up of the Keizer City Council and Budget Committee, Monday evening. “We had a mild winter, we’re in an economic recession and people are doing without.”

And with these numbers in mind Gahlsdorf and other city staff wanted to know what task force members considered to be top priorities. Several city departments brought their anticipated needs to the table.

Police topped the priority list, with the most votes going to filling vacant police positions and replacing department laptop computers. Updating the city’s computer servers also was among the top finishers.

Gahlsdorf now expects receipts from Portland General Electric to be $60,000 below budget, and NW Natural gas receipts are projected to be $50,000 below budget.

An error at the state level means an expected $40,000 windfall – that is, more than what was expected – isn’t going to materialize.

Also impacting the current budget is about $30,000 in unexpected overtime costs in the police department. Two homicides in 2011 so far meant significant police work, Gahlsdorf said, although an officer’s recent resignation – and the decision to keep that spot open for now – will partially offset that cost.

“Staff will present you a balanced budget in May, and we’ve got a lot of hard decisions to make and choices to offer you,” Gahlsdorf said.

And next year at least $235,000 in additional expenses will likely come from the police department from contractually mandated cost of living adjustments for represented employees, retirement and medical insurance premiums, she added.

Police Chief Marc Adams noted the Salem-Keizer School District could cut funding for one school resource officer along with some afterschool programs.

“I’m concerned we’re going to start seeing the results of that,” Adams said.

City Manager Chris Eppley said cuts in city hall for the current budget included materials and services, training, computer hardware and software, some outside legal costs, janitorial service for the civic center, and seasonal help to maintain parks. Also slashed was neighborhood association funding.

“It may not be this year but at some point we have to start adding some of these things back into our budget or we develop a risk for the organization,” said Eppley, who added that the civic center’s furnishings could deteriorate faster if janitorial service isn’t stepped up.

Besides aforementioned police issues, the top-to-bottom ranking by the task force was:

• Funding legal and consulting services for an urban growth boundary expansion.

• Putting back in the budget non-police service level cuts like janitorial for the civic center, parks maintenance, administrative services, training and community development.

• Establishing and paying into a sinking fund for the civic center to replace fixtures, lighting, furniture, etc.

• Providing matching funds for park improvements with system development charges.

• Replacing the city website.

• Conducting a salary survey and implementing its results.