Between employee layoffs and positions that are not being filled after numerous retirements, the City of Keizer has reduced its staff by eight employees.
“The city is primarily a people organization and that means people are where we go when we have to cinch our belts,” said City Finance Director Tim Wood at a meeting of the Keizer Long-Range Planning Committee Monday, March 8.
In some instances major positions, such as a planning director for the city, are vacant and the savings are being funneled into keeping the Keizer Police Department staffed.
Nearly three years ago, the city enacted a $4-per-month police services fee to pay for an additional five officers. That fee is still dedicated to the five officers, but officer positions that are paid for out of the city’s general fund are going unfilled.
As a result of numerous retirements, KPD never actually hit its goal of 42 officers. While COVID-19 made it possible to adjust some staffing, such as reassigning a school resource officer (SRO), the SRO program is now ending, which will again put officer assignments in flux.
“At this exact moment, we have 38 cops with officer openings on the two night shifts, a sergeant opening on a night shift, and the SRO sergeant,” said Teague after the meeting on Tuesday, March 9. Additional office retirements expected
The fee itself is also misleadingly low. Even as city councilors approved it, the specter of raising it was already on the horizon. As part of this year’s budget talks, city officials will likely consider increasing it to $6-per-month beginning in July. The additional $2 would continue paying for expected costs such as health care and retirement contributions.
“The question has become whether it is worth it to people that live in Keizer to pay a nominal fee that increases by about $1 a year,” said Keizer Police Chief John Teague.
Residents can and should ask questions about what they are getting as a result of the fee, Teague said.
Keizer residents can expect at least one other increase in what they pay for city services this year. After foregoing an increase in water rates last year, a 4% increase is on the drawing board for 2021-22.
“The reason we need to raise rates and get back on track is that the water system has continuing costs that require reinvestment,” Wood said. Keizer has the second lowest water rates of any sizable municipality between Albany and Lake Oswego.
On the other hand, the city plans to forego an increase in stormwater rates again this year. Keizer has the lowest stormwater rate, $7.66 per month, of any sizable municipality between Albany and Lake Oswego.
There are a number of reasons the city budget is becoming further and further constrained.
For the last several years the property taxes collected by the city increased by about 3% in assessed value, and added an additional 1% through growth. As the city runs out of space to grow, there are fewer new properties contributing taxes.
The lack of growth will be approximately a $60,000 hit to the budget this year and is unlikely to be restored anytime soon.
Health insurance costs for city employees are expected to rise by 5.7 % this year. The increase is about average for the rate of increases over the past decade.
Keizer employees are part of three different classes of Public Employee Retirement System plans and the amount the city contributes increases yearly. PERS rates are expected to increase by $26,168 for Tier 1/2 employees, $50,553 for the police department officers and $64,675 for newer employees. The total increase will be north of $141,000.
Additionally, the state requires local governments to pitch in additional payments as investment losses are factored into the city’s contributions. Wood estimates that payment will be $400,000 this year, half of which comes from the city’s general fund. The general fund pays for most Keizer employees.
“Keizer is moving more toward newer employees, but the contribution rates will continue to increase,” Wood said.
Even though fewer city employees are covered under the gold standard that once benefited public employees, the costs of the new PERS structure for Keizer could soon equal what the city contributes now, Wood said.