Personnel costs increase Hood River’s budgets

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 6, 2005

Hood River County’s budget for fiscal year 2005-06 has been described as “unremarkable” since it reflects little change beyond a spike in personnel costs.

“We’re pretty much holding the line and maintaining what we’ve got. The revenues are not keeping pace with the expenditures and our budget will get tighter over the years until something changes,” said Sandra Borowy, county finance director.

Conversely, the Port of Hood River has been able to give its 24 full- and part-time employees a 10 percent wage increase since other benefit increases have been minimal. That raise follows the same percentage given to workers last year to keep their salaries in par with other public workers.

“We felt this was a relatively high cost community to live in and, when we looked at salaries of similar agencies in the area, we realized that we hadn’t made an adjustment to our salary levels for 10 years,” said Port Director Dave Harlan.

Meanwhile, the City of Hood River is struggling to overcome a $500,000 deficit without adopting any new taxes or fees — although that goal will be revisited in the near future.

“Next year we will likely look at some of these revenue generators to put some of them in place,” said City Manager Bob Francis.

The county’s budget for fiscal year 2005-06 has risen from $25 million to $28 million — although much of that increase anticipates state and federal grant dollars.

Personnel costs have risen 6.5 percent, mostly due to a 24 percent Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) payment and medical premiums that have risen to 20 percent. Although the county gave its 180 full- and part-time workers a two percent cost of living raise, Borowy said most positions are not being filled as they are vacated. And several salary increase requests have been turned down as the county seeks to avoid layoffs.

“There will be no refills on positions unless it’s extremely necessary,” said Borowy. “We’re also basically out of money for capital remodels. We’re done.”

The county has incorporated into its budget the potential for a $800,000 federal grant for construction of a public health services building in Cascade Locks. Officials are also hoping to net enough grant funding to install new consoles in the dispatch center and invest $550,000 in the construction of an animal shelter.

Borowy said the county will continue looking for ways to increase efficiency to, at least, keep costs the same.

Harlan said the port budget has been cut by almost half because the $7 million bridge redecking has been completed. This year, the port has planned in its $7.3 million budget to undertake several large projects. These include spending $1 million to develop another business park if suitable land becomes available, and investing $700,000 to relocate the Second Street entrance to the waterfront so that it provides more convenient access to Portway Avenue.

“We think it’s going to be a lot more attractive, people will get to enjoy a nice bike path and landscaping on both sides of the street, said Port Finance Director Linda Shames.

In addition, the port has allotted $125,000 for a marketing analysis to determine whether businesses are more interested in bare dirt or properties with buildings. That study will tie into the port’s master planning of the waterfront’s industrial parcels.

Shames said the port realizes the greatest portion of its revenue from the toll bridge, which brings in about $2.3 million annually. She said property tax revenue only accounts for $42,000 of the port’s budget, which is why the agency needs to look ahead for ways to replace its main revenue source if the state builds a new bridge within the next 20 years.

The city recently adjusted its bottom line for the upcoming year from $23 to $22 million by not incorporating multiple new taxes and fees. However, Francis said that budget will make it difficult for the city to reduce its existing deficit or undertake needed capital improvements. But the amended budget also stops any of the 60 employees from being laid off, or a reduction on essential services.

“It’s not a real comfortable budget, it doesn’t have a lot of leeway in it. But I guess at least it’s a guideline for the upcoming year and it has been balanced without new fees,” commented Steve Everroad, city finance director, upon its passage.

The biggest hike in city expenses for the upcoming year has been personnel costs. The city’s share of PERS alone will be more than $500,000, with another $14,000 expected near year. In addition, health care costs have risen to 18 percent for the upcoming year.

In order to save money, the city has lowered the adjusted cost of living raises for workers from 5 percent to 2.5 percent. That deal was agreed upon by the involved labor unions.

In October, the city’s budget committee, comprised primary of council members, plans to look at how the new budget is working. At that time they will determine if progress has been made in reducing the deficit, and if any programs are being shortchanged. If the committee deems it necessary, Francis said the proposal for new taxes and fees could be back on the table.

The list of optional new charges includes a three cents per gallon gasoline tax, about $20 annually for the average motorist, and a two percent food and beverage tax at full-service restaurants. Other possible charges could include a street maintenance fee of about $1 each month.

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