Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Public Safety Staffing May Be Cut To 05/06 Levels

In a subdued meeting with much tallk about layoffs and not filling job openings, the most disconcerting news in the April 14 Bend City Council Work Session on department by department budget cuts were the proposed staffing cuts at the Police and Fire Departments.

This was so troubling to the City Council that they decided to move $100,000 from the Mirror Pond restoration fund to the Fire Department to ensure that all six stations remain open at all times, at least for the forthcoming fiscal year. Even then, Fire Chief Larry Langston stated that "two out of three days, we are out of EMS units for ambulance runs at some point during the day".

Police staffing is also going to be cut, both through not filling current openings and by not filling two openings created by expected retirements this summer. This should not affect call responses or violent crime investigations, but will affect the clearance rate for property and other low-level crimes. It is also expected to affect the budget due to reductions in traffic and other fines.

The complete elimination of Code Enforcement was proposed. Street maintenance is to be cut from $1.7 million to $700,000. The snowplow budget will be reduced to $150,000, in the hope that next winter will not require the $550,000 worth of plowing that this winter did. Transit cuts were proposed to eliminate Sunday Dial-A-Ride service and some mid-day fixed routes, along with bus stop improvements like benches, garbage cans, and shelters. The UGB process will be delayed, and there is concern that if the City is sued over the UGB there may not be enough money for legal defense services. Accessibility projects will see staff cut from six to three. The Affordable Housing budget will go from a proposed $2.1 million to $1.1 million. Engineering will be cut 40%, delaying transportation and utility improvement projects.

The Planning Department is being hit especially hard, as it is fee-based with supporting revenues from permits. Unfortunately, the residential permit level has dropped into the basement, and it turns out that the residential permits had been supporting the commercial permits all along. Department Director Mel Oberst stated commercial permit fees have never been high enough to cover required planning and inspection services, as commercial buildings are much more complex. The General Fund has been tapped to help pay for these services.

Reserves are being decimated, with most departments to only carry 1.5 to 2 months of reserves, while Transit will only maintain two weeks of reserves.

The "winners" seem to be the Community Development and Economic Development Departments, along with the Juniper Ridge and Airport Improvement projects. Both these departments are seeing year-over-year increases in monies from the General Fund, while the General Fund will be tapped to cover $250,000 in debt service for the Airport Improvements, and another $180,000 in debt service for the Juniper Ridge improvements required for the Les Schwab project. Both of these debts do not currently have a stable funding source for repayment.

City staff will return soon with specific immediate cuts, and also plans to revisit the subject in September, with further cuts possible depending on the economic situation going forward.

The residents of Bend will see a definite drop in services, from filling potholes to enforcing the sign ordinances, as the City battens down the hatches in the face of the oncoming recession.

Monday, April 14, 2008

All hopes hang on selling land this fall

Following the City Council meeting this evening, a Work Session focused on budget cutting, I talked to Finance Director Sonia Andrews. We discussed the amount of funding going towards JR from the General Fund, which she stated as $180,000 for debt service on a line of credit to cover our obligations per Les Schwab. All potential cuts in the JR budget as presented last fall have been undertaken. We are still waiting on ODOT for a number of trips that can possibly result in land sales this fall.

Ms. Andrews characterized the City's position as "crossing their fingers" in hope of everything working out. If not, it's dead in the water for now, and the City is paying debt service on the $6 million we will end up in the hole until things turn around. Ron Garzini and, to a lesser extent, John Russell are the rainmakers. Ms. Andrews even admitted that even if the trips are OKed, she has no idea where the money to fund the $40 million Cooley/97 interchange will come from. That's on the Garz/Russell plate.

In a realistic aside, Ms. Andrews stated that even if they can sell 50 acres for only $5 a square foot, half of the $10 that Russell is promoting, but far more realistic for undeveloped land considering Les Schwab paid $7 for shovel ready with no SDC's, that she is off the hook because that $10 million will pay for costs incurred.

There was very little discussion of Juniper Ridge at the actual meeting. Much more time was spent on saving a $100K here or there, than on the big parts of the budget. My guess is that if the voters don't decide to fund the transit system this fall, it's gone. Capell and Telfer already question it's priority, especially considering the deep cuts to public safety.

But strangely, no one questions the developers subsidies through unrealistically low SDC's and permit fees, which has led us to this point. Growth has simply not paid for itself. Councilor Clinton is the only one who even brought this up.

Low SDC's and permit fees-->Planning/Engineering/Road/Utility deficits-->General Fund hits-->Public Safety cutbacks

As an example, consider the city of Troutdale. Per their SDC worksheet, a one-ERU residential hookup costs $4426, while according to the Bend worksheet, a one ERU hookup to the sewer is only $2038. Is Bend's cost really less than half of Troutdale's? Or are Bend taxpayers picking up the difference for the developer?

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Public "Mea Culpa" To Mark Capell

I recently filed a complaint with the Oregon State Ethics Commission regarding City Councilor Mark Capell and his votes on issues regarding Knife River Corp. and President, Todd Taylor, Mark's cousin. Mark's mother and Todd's mother are sisters, as Mark informed me Wednesday.

This was in error, as it is completely legal to vote this way. Oregon state law does not consider a cousin to be a relative in this regard. To quote the Oregon Revised Statutes on the definition of a "relative":

ORS 244.020 (14)(d) Siblings, spouses of siblings or parents of the public official or of the public official's spouse

So cousin's are fine, while in-law's are not.

Sorry, Mark.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

UPDATED: For Sale: 10 Acres With View, Westside, Price: $0.00

Or "How The Bulletin Lost It's Objectivity About Real Estate"

UPDATE: There was an actual exchange of property, with the Bulletin giving up property north of Olney. I am trying to figure out the exact details. The recordings are available at http://recordings.co.deschutes.or.us/ when you search with WESTERN COMMUNICATIONS INC in the Last Name field. Look for records around Oct. 18, 1999.

Deschutes County DIAL records show that the big headquarters building sitting above Mt. Washington and Century, this building, sits on land acquired for nothing:

The key pages of the DIAL document, pages 2 and 3, are these:

Note that sale price: $0

And you wonder why the Bulletin is so pro-Brooks Resources development?