Apr 23, 2010

Troutdale Budget Committee Gets It Done.

"80 percent of success is just showing up"  — Woody Allen.  Troutdale's budget committee did just that.  Although just one citizen showed up to watch and comment, the budget committee got their budget approval finished early by taking the high road and a 30,000 foot view of the city's budget picture.  New budget committee chair Tanney Staffenson, Acting City Administrator Ron Garzini and Finance Director Erich Mueller performed a tag-team of focused and high level budget discussions.  We completed the entire process in two nights. In previous years, the budget committee process took three or four days due to in-fighting on $50 budget line items.

The budget committee did restore several items to the police budget: 3 in-car digital cameras, and a new server for the car camera system, called ICAM, a total of about $20,000. Some committee members expressed dismay at what they perceived as a rubber stamp approval of the proposed budget. They would have preferred, I suppose, to go over each of the thousands of line items one by one. And then argue over each line item. It's what was allowed in previous years, to the city's detriment. But we weren't  there to be cost accountants or analysts. This year, a large majority of the budget committee trusted the staff's recommendations after listening to detailed overviews of each department's goals, policies, and requirements. 

I've served on Troutdale's budget committee since 2004. We've gone from having large reserves and millions of  dollars in building permit related fees and charges to small reserves and virtually no building permit related fees and charges. The glory days of building permit fees related to city growth are over, mostly due to the cratered mortgage/economic crisis, but also because Troutdale is nearing build out. There isn't much more land within the city limits to build new houses or businesses on.

Due to state property tax limitations, we can only increase our tax revenues by 3% a year. Meanwhile, PERS, health insurance, union contracts, and fire protection contracts are going up by anywhere from 6-20% or more per year. And our city also has a $400,000 per year shortage for proper road maintenance.  It's not a pretty picture. Some day in the future, our city will either have to cut services drastically or ask our citizens for more money, especially to address the road maintenance issue. I'm as fiscally conservative as it gets,  but even this conservative guy recognizes that many difficult choices will be forced upon our fair city sooner rather than later. It truly is a "you can pay us now, or pay us later" dilemma. 

Finally, only one citizen, ONE, showed up to observe this year's budget meetings.  That's one more than has showed up at previous year's budget meetings. This just proves a simple fact to me. People love to complain about taxes. They love to complain about government inefficiencies and wasteful spending practices. But even when they live in a small town like Troutdale, where they could actually show up, make comments and suggestions and actually be listened to, and probably have their suggestions acted upon, they still don't care enough to show up.  

If you're one of these people, I can only say don't come singin' the blues to the City of Troutdale about how it spends its money.  You will have one more chance in June, when the city council holds another hearing on the budget. If you want to make suggestions on the budget, that's your last chance. Take advantage of that opportunity. You'll be glad you did.

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