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Some rockin’ n’ rollin’ but the budget committee gives the Newport City Council more than enough to chew on…

Newport Budget Committee got their job done.  But tensions ran high on a couple of issues.

Newport Budget Committee got their job done. But tensions ran high on a couple of issues.

Whether you’ve got a need for the police, or a chance to save yourself from fire, the Newport City budget has a lot of say in how those services are delivered in Newport.

The city’s budget committee, made up of the city council and appointed city residents went through the last of the department items including parks and recreation, urban renewal, airport, hotel-motel room tax and part of the city’s big general fund. Perhaps the most contentious item was a proposal by city councilors Ralph Busby and Mark Saelens and former City Councilor Patricia Patrick-Joling – all three providing a list of various departments whose budgets could be cut and thereby bring down the level of rate increases for city sewer and water service. They contended they developed $1.5 million in savings to the new fiscal year budget which starts July 1st.

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However, the idea fell flat with the rest of the budget committee after City Finance Director David Marshall outlined why he thought the trio’s math didn’t add up.

Marshall said there is a difference between hard cash, that’s in a budget, versus soft cash. He said budget estimates are primarily a planning document with no guarantee that the numbers you start out with in a budget year will remain constant all year long. Because they won’t. Marshall said when reviewing the budget line by line, numbers can represent hard cash numbers or they can reflect mainly what’s planned to be taken in by city hall and spent from. In short, as a practical matter, the total general fund available next year can be different than what’s laid out in a final budget. That’s why cities and counties are allowed to make amendments to the budget during the year.

Later Joling said that there are items in the budget proposal that can, and should be cut because of the looming sewer and water rate increases. Money freed up from cuts could go a long way toward sewer and water rate relief for low income and senior residents.

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Later in the meeting the budget committee voted down the idea of re-doing the city budget so that other revenues sources can be tapped so that the next sewer and water rate increase can be limited to 5% – far below what’s being proposed by Public Works Director Tim Gross. As consolation for his motion’s defeat, Busby said he supported empaneling a task force to study which sources of city money and how much of it might be tapped for easing the stress on ratepayers – some of whom are seniors on social security and are in no position to see their water and sewer rates double or triple over the next four years. The budget committee later voted to set up a subcommittee to examine where in the city budget, coupled with possible other sources like urban renewal funds could be developed to take the pressure off raising rates.

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Another sticky subject was awarding $90,000 to Lincoln County transit’s loop run through Newport to aid in basic transportation needs to locals and visitors alike. According to City Manager Jim Voetberg, only 2.6% of transit riders are tourists which prompted him to zero out the city’s contribution to the town’s loop service. That created quite a debate because the transit service were counting on those funds. In the end, the budget committee voted to ask the city council to continue to fund the bus’ loop service through Newport. Some called for comprehensive public education outreach effort to let visitors and locals know that the service is available and it’s very affordable. The budget committee endorsed the idea of putting the money back into the budget which had been recently removed by City Manager Jim Voetberg. So we’ll see what the city council does with that one.

The next budget meeting is next Monday when the council will take up the committee’s recommendations.

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