Of the Keizertimes

Long-range projections for the City of Keizer’s budget are looking quite a bit rosier these days.

Not to say that there’s plenty of money going around: Four vacant positions in the police department are expected to stay frozen in next fiscal year’s budget. But it’s a far cry from the dire possibilities City Manager Chris Eppley outlined last year around this time, when he said the worst budget decisions were yet to come.

“It looks like we’ve ridden out the hardest of the times,” Eppley said. “We’ve cut enough to stabilize our expenditures and our revenues have bottomed out above where we thought they’d bottom out.”

Cuts made over the last couple years include considerable reductions in materials and services, cutbacks in training budgets, and ultimately two layoffs, including the city’s only dedicated code enforcement officer. The remaining staffers in the planning department now handle those duties. A police administration position was saved when the officers’ union agreed to concessions.

But there’s a few big reasons – and several more small ones –  additional staff cuts this coming year, and why they hope to start adding at least one police officer back into the budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year, with possible recruitment in the next year.

Police Chief Marc Adams said drug investigations were particularly hit hard by budget cuts.

“This year we’ve seen the switcheroo from meth being the big drug we deal with to heroin … it’s a whole new mess of problems out there,” Adams said.

In the current fiscal year, electric and gas utility fees came in about $100,000 higher than budgeted, as did property tax revenues. A municipal court clerk resigned her position mid-year, and the job duties have been spread among existing staff.

The city’s long-range projections, naturally, rely on expectations: How much will assessed valuation, which in Oregon is completely separate from market value, go up? Like companies and private citizens, cities must also handle the rising cost of health insurance. Contribution costs to the Public Employee Retirement System must be monitored.

The newest projections anticipate 10 percent yearly health insurance hikes, compared with the 14 percent predicted last year. In the next budget year alone that’s a difference of some $170,000 in anticipated premium costs.

Eppley credits Machell DePina, the city’s human relations director, with “bartering the heck out of our prices, and we’ve been able to come in under 10 percent for the past few years.”

Property tax revenues are projected to go up 2.5 percent each year in the coming years, according to the long-range projections.

On the spending side, the city is proposing setting aside money annually for maintenance of the civic center. A $70,000 appropriation is proposed in the coming year’s budget. About $85,000 will be set aside over each of the next four years to meet the city’s obligations with other taxing jurisdictions that agreed to the city’s urban renewal extension plan.

Eppley also feels adding back the codes enforcement position is a “feel-good” proposition for the community.