The City of Oregon’s budget surplus over the years has grown to $4 million, mostly due to less costs on capital projects, a reduction in the number of city employees through retirements, and an increase in corporate tax revenue.
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Councilman James Seaman, chairman of the Finance Committee. “We’ve made good choices and haven’t spent our money in a crazy manner. This has been building.”
Administrator Mike Beazley said the city tightened the budget following the 2008 recession, when less revenue came in from property taxes and the state local government fund.
“If you look over the last few years, Oregon and cities like us faced a real challenge during the recession on two fronts: Declining revenue, and state cutbacks in revenue to the cities. Oregon lost more than $1 million in revenue,” said Beazley. “The mayor, administration, council, and our department heads together reduced expenditures so that we’ve been living within that budget. At the same time, some Oregon businesses have emerged through the recession rather well. We’ve ended with some stronger revenue in that category.”
Seaman also noted that there were fewer employees hired, which increased savings.
“There are retirements, and positions aren’t always replaced immediately. A lot of that comes from a cooperative workforce. Some of the work has to be done by existing employees, and they get overtime. So we don’t have to hire another employee and we can save on benefits.”
Seaman said about 75 percent of the $30 million budget goes towards wages.
“Unions have been cooperative, and worked with us. Three years ago, they took a zero percent increase, which helped us save some money in our rainy day fund, so if things turn bad, we don’t have to lay anyone off,” he said.
Also, the city last year received more corporate tax revenue, said Seaman, which contributed to the surplus.
“Normally, corporations receive a tax refund from the city. The profits were high enough that even with the write offs, they paid a corporate profit tax to the city,” he said.
Following the recession, Oregon focused on ways to cut spending while maintaining the same level of services to the public, he said. As a result, its road program did not get funded as well as in previous years.
“What happened in 2008 was so drastic to so many cities and so many people’s personal finances, it left uncertainly in my mind and the administration’s mind: Could this happen again, and could it be longer lasting? We want to be able to take care of our citizens, keep the roads halfway decent, keep police on the road, and keep the water clean. It’s an awesome responsibility,” said Seaman.
Now that the city is in a better financial position, plans call for an increase in spending for the road program.
“During the recession, we really took a very conservative approach to spending, and delayed some capital expenditures and infrastructure,” said Beazley. “The mayor and council have said, in light of this change in the economic picture, let’s make sure that during the good times, we get our streets taken care of, and get our paving done.”
During lean times, the city spent about $300,000 annually on the road program, he said.
“We want to get that back up to what we spend during the growth times - $1 million per year,” said Beazley. “We can look to try and accomplish that for the next several years to get caught up. Communities always face an economic cycle. When we come to the next recession, we’ll make sure our infrastructure and streets are in good shape, and we have an adequate reserve to rely on again.”
“We start the budget process around Thanksgiving, and get that finished in December or January,” said Seaman. “We’re going to put a lot of funds into local roads, which don’t meet the requirements for state grants because they are local streets. We have to finish off the rest of Dustin Road, and we have to get into a lot of neighborhoods and fix the streets because there are problems there. We’ll likely spend two to three times more than what we spent this year on road projects.” He noted, in particular, roads in the Ponderosa subdivision that need repair.
“Ponderosa is the oldest subdivision in the city - over 40 years old. There are streets that need to be addressed, including new gutters and repaving,” he said.