City reveals first round of budget reductions

Cuts will hit all departments

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“A difficult budget for difficult times” was the topic as a revised version of the 2011 document was presented during a Camas City Council workshop.

“Difficult” may be an understatement as city leaders scrambled after learning in late September that the city’s assessed value — and in turn its property tax revenues — would very likely take a nosedive next year, The unexpected hole is an estimated $1.6 million.

City councilors agreed to soften the blow a bit by authorizing the use of $800,000 of the city’s reserve funds, leaving another $800,000 in cuts still needed. During the past four weeks, department heads and staff have been working to whittle down expenses. The results of this effort were discussed last night.

“The spending reductions did touch all of the city’s departments,” said Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson. “This is a difficult budget for difficult times.”

Among the proposed cuts are:

o $127,400 from administration departments such as finance, human resources and information technology. Some specific items include deferring the purchase of new computers and not refilling an accountant position that is being vacated at the end of 2010 due to an employee’s retirement.

o $60,000 from recreation. The Camas Municipal Pool season will be reduced from 12 to 8 weeks, its hours of operation will also be trimmed, and the cost of swimming lessons will be increased. The parks department will eliminate paid advertising, as well as its Family Halloween Night event.

o $95,500 from parks maintenance and the cemetery and street funds. There will be reductions in mowing frequency at parks and open space areas, and the maintaining of flowers, shrubs and other vegetation. Playing fields and the Camas Cemetery will also receive less attention, In downtown Camas, there will no longer be hanging baskets, and plant bed maintenance and watering efforts will also be reduced.

o $145,500 from police. A new position that would have focused on traffic enforcement will not be filled, and the department has also taken bites out of its budgeted allotments for uniforms, supplies, travel and building expenses.

o $49,400 from the library. Regular library hours will be reduced and the library will be closed on Saturdays in June, July and August, In addition, employees will take some leaves of absence without pay, and summer positions have been eliminated.

o$99,700 from the community development department. A newly created planning manager position will not be filled, and the hours of one planner position will be sliced by 20 percent.

o $111,300 from the fire department. Reductions include eliminating two currently existing Camas firefighter/IV technician positions that up until the end of 2010 have been funded by monies from East County Fire & Rescue through a cooperative agreement.

Earlier this year, ECFR gave the city notice that as of Dec. 3 it was opting out of the agreement that paid for a total of five CFD positions. Camas is able to fund the three remaining firefighter/paramedic positions.

Kevin Bergstrom, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2444, said he believes the elimination of the funding for the two firefighter/IV technician positions is not the right decision.

“It’s unfortunate and to some degree unacceptable,” he said. “I just need to express that concern.”

Bergstrom said the fire department has already recently seen a reduction in employees through attrition, and reduced service levels.

Some good news for the two CFD IV technicians is that ECFR Chief Scott Koehler confirmed Monday night that they will be hired by the rural district on or immediately after their Dec. 3 departure from employment with the city of Camas.

Halverson said there still remains roughly $150,000 that needs to be cut from the 2011 budget to meet the task of eliminating $800,000 of expenses.

“The balance can be achieved through a series of personnel cost reductions that we believe are achievable,” he said. Examples include voluntary furloughs, attrition adjustments to the workforce, and employees taking time off instead of cash payouts for holiday time.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” summarized Councilman Steve Hogan.

Some aspects of the budget remain in limbo. Current contracts with all five of the city’s labor groups are up at the end of the year. Negotiations with fire, police, administrative, library and public works unions are currently underway.

While much of the focus has been on what needs to be cut from the 2011 proposed budget, some items that might be considered investments in the future of the city are being funded.

There is a $50,000 contribution toward the startup costs for a proposed Economic Development Commission that is a partnership with the Port of Camas-Washougal and the City of Washougal.

All three entities have pledged funding for the entity that will work to expand existing businesses and bring new businesses and jobs to the east Clark County area.

In addition, the Camas budget includes a $26,000 contribution to the Columbia River Economic Development Commission.

By making $800,000 in proposed cuts, the city is able to live up to its financial policy to sustain a reserve fund that is at least 17 percent of the general fund budget.

Mayor Paul Dennis said the city’s reserve fund balance should be approximately $3.4 million at the end of 2010, meaning to meet policy $2.6 million would need to be left at the end of 2011. Reserves are typically used as a cash-flow buffer, and to have funding available for unexpected expenses.

Councilwoman Helen Gerde said she is pleased city staff was able to accomplish the difficult task of budget reductions.

“It’s going to be hard, but I want to compliment each department on how they did,” she said. “It is not going to be easy.”