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.