After hours testifying before the Lincoln City Council and its budget committee, city staff was able to offer its best shot at a reasonable city budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1st.
Overall, it s $29.5 million dollar financial plan that includes a 2.5% cost of living increase for city workers, except for most department heads whose pay is frozen in place until the state average catches up with them. City Manager David Hawker defended the premium pay saying just because the city limit sign says the town has a population of 8,000 souls, it overlooks the fact that the town’s population and demand for services reaches the 15,000 mark or more during the long tourist season which requires higher pay to attract higher performing personnel to meet the demand for police, parks and recreation, utility and tourism promotion services.
The City County/Budget Committee voted unanimously to pass the proposed budget which will get another review by just the city council which is expected to adopt it June 10th with little or no changes. City Councilors voting with the citizens committee expressed no major heartburn with what was proposed by Hawker and staff. We’ll see if that opinion holds true for the next week.
Highlights include a 4% increase in water and sewer rates. Hawker said although Lincoln City is playing catchup for a long stretch of no rate hikes, it’s nothing like what Newport and other cities are facing with much longer gaps in properly maintaining their sewer and water systems. Hawker pointed to Newport’s proposed 15% rate hike per year for five years just to keep the water and sewer services working. But even then, there will be a bit of a juggling act in bringing Roads End into the city, after which revenues for sewer and water to the city will fall off since they’ll pay lower “in city” rates. However, that will be somewhat offset by Roads End property taxes flowing into the city treasury, albeit at a graduated rate. As those property taxes rise, Hawker said, it’ll fix the imbalance. He mentioned that the Roads End annexation is likely to be challenged so the timing of the financial arrangement may be shifted ahead depending on how long a final legal decision takes.
Still there are major water and sewer projects to tackle around the city including continuing to plug leaks in the city’s water system. He said the system is leaking about half of what it was a few years ago, but that it is still a lot of water. Hawker said he suspects a lot of it is leaking from pipes between the street mains to homes and businesses which the property owners are responsible for fixing. He said the city might play a role in helping residents and businesses acquire loans to get themselves more water tight.
City Public Works Director Lila Bradley reported that they are planning to shove another pipe from the waste water treatment plant, under Schooner Creek, paralleling the single pipe they already have. It’s intended for emergency back-up and for allowing the primary pipe to be routinely cleaned and otherwise maintained. More on the sewer side she said there will be improvements made so that the Nelscott outfall doesn’t overflow so often during major storms. Sewer sludge land disposal is also an issue in that Siletz River farmland “receiving areas” are getting harder to come by which is prompting the city to ponder buying land in the area. Otherwise, he said, it would mean much higher costs transporting it to sites way out Highway 18 toward Grande Ronde.
Hawker also told the budget committee that storm water infiltration remains an on-going headache for the city. He said finding places where storm water is getting into the sewer lines is a never-ending process. He said it requires constant smoke testing and inserting a TV camera inside the pipes to show engineers where stormwater is getting access to the system. He said the city’s sewer capacity is thereby reduced until the infiltration is lessened or preferably stopped altogether.
Hawker mentioned that a plan to provide sewer service around the rest of Devil’s Lake is on the radar. Getting the concept on paper is partially funded by fees paid by Bi-Mart which agreed to pay a penalty of sorts for inadvertently constructing their new store at a lower energy efficiency level than originally agreed to by the city.
One citizen committee member asked about what he called disparities in the quality of childrens playground equipment at Regatta, Cutler City and Wecoma parks. He said “Wecoma’s doing fine, but the other two aren’t. Equipment at Regatta and Cutler City are breaking and then disappearing.” Public Works Director Lila Bradley said they’re aware of the situation and that they are upgrading Regatta Park but not with new equipment. At Cutler City, she said, equipment is being repaired and will soon be re-installed.
Other aspects of the budget were raised including another reference to the fact that Lincoln City is still taking a wait and see approach to whether it will join Newport and the rest of the county (except Toledo) which recently turned over 9-1-1 dispatch responsibilities to the Willamette Valley Communications Center (WVCC) run by the Salem Police Department. With the recent addition of the Lincoln County police and fire agencies, WVCC now dispatches for over 30 emergency services agencies in Marion, Polk and Lincoln Counties. Hawker said Lincoln City is still pondering its options including whether a tandem arrangement with Toledo might be a way to save money without farming it out to Salem. But either way it goes, Hawker said, he wants a back-up dispatch center available on the coast if something knocks out service between the coast and WVCC. It’s been said that Lincoln City could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in dispatch costs if it joined the rest of the Lincoln County agencies that have already migrated to WVCC.