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community convo ciddicis
By Peter Troedsson, City Manager

It was good to see about 40 people come out at Deluxe Brewing Co. on September 17 to talk about the City budget with me and other City staff. As promised, we’ll continue the conversation at 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 19, at Ciddici’s Southside, 859 Belmont Avenue SW.

These are informal face-to-face conversations with you: the people who live in the city of Albany. The City’s budget is your budget and “the City” isn’t “they” or “them.” It’s all of us. The money in the City budget comes from you, your neighbors, and your co-workers, including people who work for the City and live in Albany. 

The city council adopted the City’s first biennial budget, for 2019-21, in June. A two-year budget means taking a longer-term approach to planning and anticipating financial needs. It helps make clear the difference between “one-time funds”, such as proceeds from a property sale or a grant, and ongoing sources of income to pay the recurring costs like operations. The many ongoing daily operations of your City government need to be funded by predictable revenue. One-time funds are available just once; they won’t be there to pay the bills in the future.

For this budget period, the city council provided broad guidance: 1) begin to build up reserves that had been drawn down during the last recession to avoid service level cuts; 2) maintain current services as much as possible; and 3) reorganize and adjust daily operations to the funding available. 

The cost of providing City services is going up faster than the primary source of steady revenue – property taxes, which are limited by state law. The biggest factors in rising operating costs are payments to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), controlled by the state of Oregon and averaging 33 percent of the cost of City government; and health insurance. One of the insurance plans for City employees rose 4 percent this year; the other plan, which covers most of the employees, is going up 17.8 percent. By contrast, property taxes are expected to increase by 3.5 percent this year. 

I wasn’t a star math student, but I can still see that when operating costs go up at a rate greater than revenue, adjustments must be made. We need to cut back on the services the City provides or find alternative sources of revenue – or both. It takes time to identify new sources of revenue, to debate the effects they will have on Albany citizens, and then to implement them. That discussion is ongoing now. For this biennium, we’ve restructured and reduced staff in several departments, which will result in changes in the services provided by the police, fire department, parks and recreation, and the library. And while these are services funded by the City’s general fund, it’s important to keep in mind that the same people who pay property taxes into the general fund also pay for water, sewer, and stormwater services through utility rates.

The City’s mission is “providing quality public services for a better Albany community.” The city council’s intent is to provide quality services while responsibly managing the City’s resources. To do that, we will need to continue to make adjustments to service levels and revenues. I hope you’ll join me for a conversation at Ciddici’s Southside on November 19.