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Roads top city budget discussion

The City of The Dalles Budget Committee is recommending that a Northwest Natural Gas franchise fee of $81,402 be used for street repairs.

The money would be moved from the contingency fund, which takes care of unexpected and unbudgeted expenses into the fund for street improvements in the fiscal year 2014-15 budget.

Nolan Young, city manager, said the committee decided the money could best be used to improve degraded roadways.

“They wanted to present an alternative to help out with street funding,” he said.

The city council has made it a priority to maintain a 10 percent contingency fund to handle unexpected and unbudgeted expenses. Moving the franchise fee would drop the fund below that amount so Young said the council will have to decide whether the money should still be moved into the $3.7 million account for street work.

That might not be a difficult sell given that council members are part of the budget committee, which also includes five citizens. These individuals are: Gary Grossman, John Layson, Corliss March, Barbara Pashek and Russ Brown.

The council will hold a public hearing on the 2014-15 budget at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 9 at City Hall, 313 Court Street.

Young said $1 million of street funding in 2014-15 is proposed for construction of a retaining wall in a slide area — the 600 to 900 blocks — of East Scenic Drive. The roadway has been damaged by earth movement and also needs to be rebuilt and resurfaced.

The city has been concerned that continued shifting of the ground, even if slight, will eventually destroy underground utilities and the roadway. If a catastrophic failure of the embankment were to occur, homes on the north side of the street could be severely damaged or destroyed.

Also on the list for improvement is Third Place, which will be rebuilt with a new asphalt surface. Chip sealing is planned over as many other roadways as funding allows.

“Street maintenance funding remains an unresolved challenge,” said Young of having about 60 percent of the city’s streets in poor or very poor condition.

He said other areas of the 2014-15 budget are looking good, although new revenue is up by 2.1 percent this year instead of 3.3 percent last year.

“That’s something we’ll need to watch,” he said.

The revenue increase is primarily due to new commercial and industrial development in the Chenoweth Business Park, said Young.

Any loss in projected new revenue, he said, is balanced out by a 1.1 percent increase in the beginning fund balance, which will be $1.6 million.

The total budget for 2014-15 is $58,604,033, a 10.1 percent increase from 2013-14 due largely to water and wastewater capital projects. The general fund, which covers most operational expenses, stands at $8,369,232, a 2.6 percent increase.

“We knew last year and this year was going to be a little bit light but everything’s looking fine in the general fund for next year,” said Young. “Services in all departments are at the same level as last year.”

General revenue sources include property taxes, franchise fees, court costs, transient room taxes and administrative deductions from other funds. Police services take up 54 percent of capital available in that fund and $55,000 is earmarked for two patrol cars from capital projects fund.

Young said court fines are down 16.4 percent below four years ago, while costs have grown by 33.7 percent over the same time period. He said that is an area of concern that will also need to be addressed.

He said 2014-15 brings only a slight increase in personnel costs — 1.4 percent or $65,311 — due mostly to all employees receiving a 2 percent cost of living adjustment.

There has been a $6,000 reduction in the city’s contractual services with other government entities, despite the fact that $20,000 was added for the Fourth of July celebration and $25,000 toward a Main Street program manager. This has happened, said Young, because Google tax abatement funds have made it possible for the city and county to pay off Discovery Center debt without using their own budget funds and other programs are also benefitting.

Animal control costs have gone up from $41,776 in 2012-13 to $77,136 in 2013-14, due to an increase in hours for personnel from half-time to three-quarter time, and costs to house dogs at the Home at Last shelter.

Tax revenue for The Dalles-Wasco County Library District is funneled through the city, which will receive $36,942 for administrative services. The district will contribute $1 million in taxes to the city in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase.


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