In a controversial Budget Committee meeting held Tuesday, May 31, including Mayor Larry Anderson and City Council members, the committee proposed to resolve the budget crisis facing the City of Brookings, Oregon by increasing water and sewer rates and eliminating jobs. A sure recipe for disaster.
The mayor kicked things off on a negative note by flipping a coin to determine whether non-committee members would be allowed to sit at the meeting table or not. The reason for the committee’s discomfort became apparent as the mayor and council members insisted that several jobs be eliminated to make up for the city’s nearly $500,000 deficit for the fiscal year.
The mayor strongly advocated funding to public development and improvement, backing a proposal of $75,000 to replace water meters to save the city a few dollars per year, while simultaneously proposing to cut the very workers who would be installing and maintaining those meters. Mayor Anderson also advocated $15,000 for an Economic Development consultant to provide free services to land developers.
City Manager Gary Milliman apparently opposed the layoffs, pointing out that if the workers are eliminated, the work won’t get done. Milliman proposed suspending the new meter project temporarily. Councillor Pieper also reminded the committee that changes to personnel policies was outside their jurisdiction. However, the committee members remained adamant that personnel reduction is the solution. Remaining non-union employees may be facing reduced benefits, loss of merit increases, and furloughs. It is unclear whether union employees will be exempt.
It was speculated that the deficit was created when repayment of a $4 million loan for city repairs commenced. The city was counting on continued development in housing tracts and businesses to fund most of the repayment of the loan prior to the recession. City staff also cite failure of former councillors to increase water and sewer rates to reflect inflation as a contributing factor. City staff now tentatively estimates a rate increase of 19% will be necessary to bring the rates current. Council recommended an increase of 5% over the next four years, which would offset $100,000 of the deficit this year.
The next Budget Committee meeting is planned for Monday, June 6 at 4p.m. at City Hall. It is currently posted on their website as a Workshop. All interested persons are encouraged to attend. http://www.brookings.or.us/finance%20department/Budget%20Calendar%20Revised%202011-12.pdf