City of Hood River ponders layoffs

The city of Hood River is wrestling with a severe budget shortfall that could bring job losses and a reduction of services.

That's the grim news being delivered by Steve Everroad, city finance director, to the budget committee on May 7. To meet the current $300,000 deficit and plan for the likelihood that it will reoccur next year, Everroad said the city has to shave $600,000 from its projected $3 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2002-03.

"There's just a whole litany of things that are going to mean less revenue," said Everroad.

For example, Everroad said Oregon's economic woes and several ballot measures to roll back property taxes in recent years have lowered revenues significantly for public agencies statewide. In addition, he said after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks the local tourism trade dropped off and reduced the collection rate of motel room taxes. But even as the working capital is shrinking, Everroad said health care premiums for employees are rising by 30 percent.

To further compound the problem, Everroad said monies collected from building fees and other special programs are now mandated to be placed in dedicated accounts and are not available for general needs.

"We'll have a balanced budget for presentation in May, one way or the other," said Everroad.

Unless city officials can find other ways to trim the budget, city manager Lynn Guenther said seven employees face layoffs, which will mean a delay in provision of essential services. He said the remaining 50 staffers will get only a two percent cost of living increase this year, a situation that might not sit well with union representatives during the upcoming labor negotiations in late June. However, he said the situation is dire enough that if contract workers don't agree to the current terms it could force even more layoffs.

"We are looking at all the alternatives but the situation today looks pretty bad," said Guenther. "We need to stop the bleeding right now and make sure we don't have a deficit in the general fund next year."

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