Figures were flying, politics were bubbling, positions were hardening, then changing, then going off in other directions. At best it was confusing – especially when a member of the audience claimed the city was headed for a six million dollar hole in its budget – something the council picked up on, for a few minutes, then dropped, except for Councilor Ralph Busby who reminded the council that the city’s expenditures are exceeding revenues and with that made a motion to cut the city budget by ten percent. It went no where.
But City Finance Director David Marshall, in a round about way seemed to agree with Busby, adding that the days of drawing from reserves to cover rising expenses are fast coming to a close – that 2015 will be a “pivital” year in which the city will have to begin spending based on income rather than what’s still left in the bank. Marshall declared that next fiscal year’s budget is balanced. There is no six million dollar hole. But, he added that coming up in 2015, the city will be faced with very tough choices. As with thousands of cities and counties across the country, shrinking budgets coupled with rising costs for labor, medical insurance and retirement set asides, will continued to put a terrible strain on government budgets.
In order to cope with this trend says Marshall, the city council will have to look very closely at those services that are not self-supporting – the ones that are the biggest drain on the general fund. And they are the senior center, the library and parks and recreation. Two others, of course, are police and fire protection, but they are usually seen by most citizens as more vital for the safety, health and welfare of the community. Marshall says he doesn’t foresee wholesale slashing of budgets, but certainly there will emerge a new reality about what the city can afford to provide its citizens and at what levels of service. “And to be sure, those decisions are strictly up to the city council,” he added.
The 2013-14 Newport City budget passed by a vote of 6 to 1, with councilor Busby voting no. He still wanted a 10% cut in it. Contained in the budget was continued support for Lincoln County Transit’s “loop” service through downtown Newport. Also, funding support for an economic development (jobs creation) position with the Chamber of Commerce. There is expected to be other funding sources to make that office function, again, under the auspices of the Chamber.
Again, a 3% or so increase to property taxpayers.
The city council Monday evening also approved the creation of a “task force” to investigate various methods (with emphasis on the word “various”) to pay for replacing Newport’s aging/crumbling water and sewer distribution and pump systems. City Public Works Director Tim Gross, who successfully convinced the city council to include yet another 15% increase in sewer and water rates in next year’s budget, says the town’s sewer and water pipes and pumps are about shot and must be replaced and that he expects most of the funds to come from sewer and water ratepayers. He’s told the council numerous times that there are limited grant funds available for such projects because the whole country is caught in the same bind – ignoring what’s underground until it starts to fail. And it’s failing terribly, coast to coast.
The task force, made up of city councilors, budget committee members and others, will begin meeting after July 1st to see if they can come up with any lucrative alternatives other than raising sewer and water rates over the four years at the same steep rates – rates that many low income and retirees contend they simply cannot afford.
The city council also put the regulatory wheels in motion to approve small additions to homes or separate mini-homes on lots throughout the city’s residential areas. They’re primarily aimed at providing small living quarters for older family members or for caregivers who need to live close to their clients. Because they are to be living quarters, the mini-homes or additions to existing homes will not be allowed to encroach on normal set-backs to adjoining properties. No “granny houses” would be allowed to be built up against the fence line.
The council gave Public Works Director Tim Gross permission to use Georgia Pacific franchise fees to help pay to track down homes or businesses whose pipes are funneling their sewer water into the storm drains. That sewage, from Nye Creek and the main downtown area, is finding its way to the Nye Beach outfall and causing health warnings on the beach. Gross says although there was a big effort to clear up such problems back in the 1950s, they didn’t get it all. So, today Gross says they’ll have to physically check each sewer service line from individual buildings, one by one, to determine which service lines that are still contributing to the contamination. Once they get those fixed, Gross says, they can run smoke tests that will better target the last vestiges of the problem.