Newport: City and utility fees rising, new city priorities set, 3.5 new city positions, sticking with airport staffing situation and collaborating with other cities to tackle affordable housing challenges
City budget for fiscal year 2016-17 approved – with higher utility rates
Newport City Councilors Monday night approved the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget that weighed in at a hefty $75 million – a little more when additional bells and whistles were added. But it reflects the country’s recovering economy that has begun to life all boats along the Oregon Coast.
Although the city budget is higher, the property tax rate will remain the same at about $5.60 per thousand of assessed property valuation. However other fees and charges are kicking in rather substantially across the city’s menu of chargeable services. Sewer rates are rising 4%, water 5%, storm water 5% and 5% for what’s called infrastructure. The city’s budget committee angsted over these higher rates because of the pain they will inflict on low and fixed income families. But the city council said the city’s sewer and water delivery system, in the ground, continues to fall apart and needs to be fixed now, implying we won’t have a city if we don’t do something. They say floating bonds will help ease rate shock, spreading the costs out over a longer time period.
But at the same time the city did hire more staff including a new deputy city recorder, an additional police detective, a financial specialist for the city finance office and made a part-time park maintenance position full time.
The council did throw addition money at the city’s water system by shifting funds from what was to be the city’s water fluoridation system (that got voted down) into bolstering the city’s water distribution system. In addition, heftier tourism room tax collections gave the city some breathing room on capital projects, maintenance needs and major repairs.
Compensating for no water fluoridation
But getting back to the fluoride issue – a request was made from a citizen that the city set aside future revenues to help children of low income families have their teeth checked and evaluated for preventing tooth decay which could worsen since fluoridation of the city’s water supply was turned down. The speaker represented the Lincoln County Dental Health Coalition, comprised of a number agencies spread over Lincoln, Lane and Benton Counties, all concerned about children’s oral health. The speaker said that while the agencies currently have sufficient funds to launch their program today, the effort will grow and more cavity prevention money will be needed in the near future. They said they’d like the council to help low income families that won’t be getting the fluoridation they need to prevent tooth decay. The council said they’d consider it.
City Council offers it’s two cents on legislative goals for next legislature.
The City Council polled themselves on what issues they’d like to see state lawmakers tackle next February when they convene in Salem. Top of the list was restoring recreational immunity, better funding for roads and highways, re-evaluating lodging taxes and more closely examining property tax fairness in Oregon. These are Newport’s priorities. They’ll be forwarded to the Oregon League of Cities who will then bundle them with the priorities similarly submitted by other cities and counties around the state.
Every old is new again at the airport
After trying to solicit new ideas about how to help to pull the Newport Airport out of it’s vat of red ink, and not getting any takers from outside firms, the council went along with City Manager Spencer Nebel’s suggestion that the city keep the three city workers (plus temporaries) that still run the airport while seeking other ways of reducing, or even eliminating the airport’s $300,000 drag on the city budget. So the current employees will stay and the council even re-authorized hiring temporary workers for those times of the year when air traffic increases substantially at the airport.
Affordable vs. Workforce Housing
And finally City Manager Spencer Nebel got pretty passionate about trying to more seriously tackle Lincoln County’s affordable housing crisis…yes crisis was the word that was used. Although there was some state legislative support for building more affordable and work force housing, that aid is aimed mainly at those making 80% of the state’s median income. The greatest need is for those who make only 60% of median and less. The council supported Nebel scheduling a meeting between city officials throughout Lincoln County to figure out what local governmental resources are available to make Lincoln County more attractive for affordable housing developers. Some cities, and certainly the county, has government-owned properties that could be deeded to non-profit agencies whose sole reason for existence is to help low income residents actually buy and rent decent housing. Saving money on the land is a strategic issue across the board.
Nebel said he is inviting officials from Lincoln City, Lincoln County, and any other city councilors to weigh in on how the various population centers in the county can find ways to work together and actually produce more affordable housing until more options surface – either at the state or federal levels. Nebel told the council that affordable housing is a regional issue that cannot be solved by any one government agency or city. A meeting is being scheduled for July 12th, 3pm at Newport City Hall for local government leaders from throughout the county to pool their observations, ideas and possible resources in developing whatever local solutions might be achieved.