Saturday, March 31, 2007
By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
March 7, 2007
The Hood River City Council has rewarded top staffer Bob Francis with a large raise for paring down the budget deficit faster than expected.
“He put a three-year plan in place to reduce our deficit and then exceeded the expectation of that plan within the first year,” said Mayor Linda Streich.
She said Francis’ new $85,755 annual salary also factored in the results of a labor market study. According to Streich, the city manager needed to earn $85,000-$95,000 to stay in step with other same-sized Oregon cities.
She said Francis had not received a pay raise since taking the helm at city hall three years ago. In January of 2006, he was denied an increase in the $69,684 that he earned each year because of a $1.17 million shortfall in the general fund.
However, Francis was given the same 4.1 percent cost of living adjustment that other personnel received, bringing his salary up to $72,540.
Last year, he also received mixed performance reviews from the council. Francis was ranked low by one official for his fiscal oversight and two others contended that his working relationship with employees and the public needed improvement.
Streich said Francis obviously took those comments to heart and made positive changes on all fronts.
“His performance review by council and staff this year indicated that he’s doing a very good job. So council unanimously felt that it was time to give him a significant raise,” she said.
In January, the elected body was informed by Francis and Steve Everroad, finance director, that the deficit had been reduced to $822,253 by June 2006. And higher than expected property tax returns would allow $260,000-$500,000 more to be shaved off by July 1, the start of fiscal year 2007-08.
Everroad said the city could be operating in the black by the summer of 2008 — one year ahead of schedule.
Francis credits several steps taken in 2006 for aiding with the stabilization of the budget. For example, city administrators now bill each department for time spent dealing with its issues. Money in dedicated accounts is required by law to be removed only for a specific purpose, such as road maintenance.
However, Francis said it is permissible to charge these healthy accounts for oversight.
In addition to transferring more money into the general fund coffers, the city has also raised several fees and challenged department heads to cut their overhead by a much as 10 percent.
Most charges for planning services have tripled and an additional $100 was tacked on to the charge for an ambulance ride. A stormwater maintenance fee of about $2.50 per month was also levied on each household.
Although the overall budget is improving, Everroad said the ambulance service and municipal court continue to run in the red. He said steps are being taken to pursue collections on $100,000 of unpaid court fines and $150,000 for delinquent ambulance accounts.
He said recouping that money should correct most of the problem in these two departments — especially if options are also pursued to lower operating costs.
The city’s budget has been out of compliance with the Oregon Constitution since 1998. That year the first deficit of about $80,992 was recorded.
By 2002, that figure had climbed to $675,000 and the state auditor granted the city leniency to create a deficit-reduction plan.
The plan brought the shortfall down to $397,000 by the time that Francis arrived in 2004. However, by June of that year, the deficit had grown once again to $580,756 and, one year later it stood at $1.17 million.
In early 2006, Francis informed the council that the deficit-reduction plan had failed when several expected revenue sources from grants failed to come through.
He also blamed rising health care and retirement costs for public employees, as well as budget overruns in the emergency service departments.
At that time, he told the council that he would come up with a plan to whittle the deficit down once and for all.