Three new city positions proposed in 2012-13 budget – Parks and Recreation relatively unchanged. Two percent pay raise minimum for most city employees.
According to Newport City Manager Jim Voetberg’s budget message for fiscal year 2012-13, the city will be hiring three new employees, dropping one, throttling back retirement benefits, raising sewer, water and first-ever storm drain fees, and setting aside some tall dollars for a new fire truck and local match for airport improvements, all the while increasing slightly the city’s financial reserves for really rainy days or other emergencies.
The details and final configuration of next fiscal year’s budget will come after at least an additional public meeting involving the city’s budget committee and the city council. The council will have the final say on the final form of the budget.
Voetberg is recommending what’s called a “soft freeze” on employee retirement benefits. No longer would the city guarantee a retiree a set amount per month for life. The city would only guarantee a certain amount set aside toward a retirement benefit which would be defined by the rate of return on the city’s retirement fund investments. Voetberg and other city department heads are examining such a switch with both union and non-union workers. Voetberg also proposes a high deductible health care plan to moderate recent rate hikes for health care insurance. Health care insurance costs have been rising well beyond the country’s rate of inflation for years with predictable effects on every American’s wallet.
Voetberg is recommending an across the board pay increase of 2% for all city workers. He is also recommending the budget committee and city council approve the hiring of an additional finance department employee to handle employee benefit issues as well as employee recruitment to help fill vacancies that arise from time to time. Voetberg is also recommending that the second position in the computer maintenance department be made full time. That the fire chief get a full time administrative assistant and that a full time storm drain engineer be hired for public works. Voetberg also recommends that a position in the police department’s records section remains vacant.
Voetberg also is asking the budget committee and city council to set aside $100,000 in funds toward a new fire truck. Also to set aside $125,000 as half of the match required to qualify for a Federal Aviation Administration grant to rebuild the runway at the Newport Airport. It’s got a big valley in the middle of it due to ground setting over the years. The city wants to get the renovation going sometime in 2014.
There is a five percent reduction in funding for Parks and Recreation, in Voetberg’s budget, but that’s to offset the transfer of Parks Maintenance from Parks and Recreation to a new city division called Facilities and Grounds. However, Voetberg adds that there should be no reduction in Parks and Recreation programs in the next fiscal year.
What will likely become a sore spot with the citizens of Newport is the same sore spot that most Oregon cities are having to contend with; replacing underground sewer, water and storm drain pipes at a very handsome price. Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross said that most of the pipes in the ground are fifty to seventy-five years old and they’re turning brittle when they’re not turning to mush, which makes fixing leaks and minor rebuilds nearly an empty gesture because they’re just going to break again. Gross said he needs $3 million dollars a year in pipe replacement money to get the city back into reasonable shape.. Voetberg recommends raising rates 8% for the next fiscal year for water and sewer lines with the rates rising much higher over the next five years in order to put enough money in the bank to keep the town’s water flowing and the toilets flushing. On top of that, he’s recommending a first-ever storm sewer fee of $6.80 a month to fix the town’s very leaky storm drainage system, a lot of which is infiltrating the city’s sewer lines causing the sewer plant to treat a lot more water than it should. Voetberg and the council the other night were told by Gross that no matter how you cut it, Newport residents will see their utility bills double over the next five years if they want to have reliable water and sewer services.
On the revenue side, Voetberg said that revenues to the city should stay about the same, with perhaps a 2.5% increase in property taxes, some of which Voetberg is recommending be set aside to build up the city’s reserve accounts.
The next budget committee meeting is next Tuesday, 6pm at City Hall. Some committee members have speculated that they might even have a final set of budget recommendations wrapped up by the end of that meeting. From there it goes to the city council for their final review and approval.