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Fireworks funding decision on hold

The Dalles City Council decided at its Monday goal setting session for 2014 to see if $20,000 can be found in the budget for a festival and fireworks display on July 4.

The elected body said the money would be a match for funds raised by the Fort Dalles Fourth. However, officials felt a decision about that expenditure needed to be made in May, as the current fiscal year was winding down and planning is under way for 2014-15, which begins July 1. “We’ll make a good college try to come up with $20,000 for a match,” said Nolan Young, city manager.

Officials said it was not possible to meet the timeline of Feb. 18 that Doug Kirchhofer, a representative of the Fourth, had requested for a verbal confirmation of funding.

“I don’t want to be pressured to hurry up and do this because we’re under a time crunch,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence.

The Fourth is a subcommittee of the Mid-Columbia Veterans Memorial Committee and Kirchhofer approached the council in mid-January about startup funding for Independence Day activities. He requested that the city invest $20,000 in the current fiscal year and $15,000 in 2014-15.

Kirchhofer said the services of Western Display Fireworks needed to be reserved by mid-February. He said the Fort Dalles Fourth was trying to bring back the town celebration and fireworks show that had stalled 27 years ago. The goal was to make the event self-sustaining in three years and the cost of fireworks this July would be about $35,000.

Ultimately, the Fourth wants to see another $18,000 spent on a festival and $7,000 for regional promotion. The plan, Kirchhofer told the council, is to get annual contributions from businesses, corporations, civic organization and individuals to cover expenses.

Fourth members estimate that $8,000 could be brought into the community by visitors the first year of the celebration. Kirchhofer later clarified that amount was city tax revenue. He said the benefits would grow as people from around the region began to count on the annual July 4 entertainment.

“Something like this drives commerce and trade,” he told the council in January.

Several of the elected officials said Monday that they wanted to see a breakdown of numbers used by the Fourth to reach the estimate given for the tax benefits of the event.

“They need to do a better job of showing us those economic numbers — how they are going to bring people through town,” said Lawrence.

“This is a last minute add-on but, at this point, I don’t feel I have enough information or understanding,” said Councilor Bill Dick.

Young recommended the council wait until May to decide on the Fourth’s request due to the budget becoming increasingly tight. He did not want them to commit to a second year of funding because several revenue trends were raising concern.

He said there was less of a surplus in the general fund, which covers most day-to-day operations, due to a decrease in new revenue and compression of property tax increases by about $20,000 each year. He said the level of transient room taxes and franchise fees collected from utility and cable companies had also fallen, although that trend appeared to be reversing.

The general beginning fund balance had been falling for the past four years, Young said, but by being frugal, the city could hold down its budget increase for 2014-15 to 3 percent or less.

“We’re okay right now, I’m just concerned about this upcoming year,” he said. “I think for a year or two we are going to have to be very careful to maintain our service levels.”

Young also gained agreement from the council that providing the Main Street program with stable funding to gain economic development in the downtown blocks needed to be given first priority for extra funds.

Matthew Klebes, the Main Street coordinator, requested at the Feb. 3 goal setting session that the city match funds raised through general contributions up to the amount of $25,000 for three years. He said the city match would be reviewed at the end of each fiscal year. If the value of services provided by a full-time coordinator, to be hired by September, could be shown to benefit downtown businesses, then the investment could continue.

Klebes said the ultimate goal was to have a $65,498 annual budget by 2017, with the majority of funding derived from investors and project/event revenue.

Dick gained agreement from his peers that the contractual obligations made, to date, were important to maintain.

In fiscal year 2013-14, the council authorized funding for: Fort Dalles Museum, $15,000; LINK transportation services, $10,000; Veterans Memorial maintenance, $2,000; Sister City program, $2,500; 6 Rivers mediation services, $4,000; YouthThink prevention programs, $21,500; juvenile work crew, $13,650; Confluence Project for cultural enrichment, $5,000; Main Street, $30,000; Mid-Columbia Senior Center, $5,000; Pioneer Cemetery maintenance, $2,000; Wasco County Emergency Operations Center, $9,000.

Although the city provided $5,000 for Discovery Center maintenance in 2013-14 and was expected to allocate $25,000 in 2014-15 to repay the interpretative center’s debt service for infrastructure, those investments might not be necessary. Google’s $1.2 million payment in lieu of property taxes for a new data center has provided Wasco County with $425,845 to pay off debt incurred by bringing sewer and water services to the facility.

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