Washougal debates use of cash reserves

Public hearings are set for Nov. 15

An expenditure of $184,680 from cash reserves is included in the City of Washougal preliminary budget, as proposed by Mayor Sean Guard.

The $32.2 million preliminary budget includes $11.1 million in general, street and fire funds; $10.6 million in utility funds; $8.5 million in projects and grants/various funds and $2 million in other funds.

The use of some of the city’s cash reserves sparked some debate during last night’s council workshop.

Councilman Paul Greenlee said previous councils prepared for the “non-boom times” by building reserves to cover shortfalls.

“The councils were very tightfisted in 2006, 2007 and 2008,” he said. “That’s why we have those reserves – to level out the ups and downs in the revenue stream.”

Councilman Dave Shoemaker said reserves are not for capital expenditures.

A reduction in the usage of seasonal employees in the summer could result in less frequent mowing and delayed trash pickups in city parks, as well as a reduction in ball field and crack seal street maintenance, according to Public Works Assistant Director James Dunn.

Councilman Jon Russell said he does not like layoffs and furloughs.

“Most cities are doing it,” he said. “It’s just fiscally responsible.”

Russell asked about the possibility of closing City Hall on Friday, and having city employees work four 10-hour days instead.

Human Resource Director Jeanette Cefalo said Clackamas County has conducted a similar pilot project for one year, to save on energy and transportation costs. A representative of that county has offered to present the findings to the Washougal City Council.

Councilwoman Molly Coston said she is not willing to go to layoffs.

“We’ll find ways to save money and be prudent,” she said. “I do not want streets full of potholes and grass that is high. We should keep residents happy and entice businesses.”

The budget includes a 25 percent reduction in travel and training expenditures, a 32 percent decrease in professional services, a wage freeze for non-represented staff and continued discussions with represented employees. The budget also assumes water rate increases of 13.5 percent, sewer rate increases of 28.5 percent and storm water rate increases of 14.5 percent.

There are funds to purchase a fully equipped Washougal medical response vehicle for the fire department, as well as defibrillator units for schools and city buildings. The budget also anticipates the use of $150,000 from restricted Emergency Medical Services funds to continue funding an EMS crew inside the city 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, according to Guard.

“This item has very recently come to light in regard to the falling EMS levy revenues throughout the entire district,” he wrote in his budget message.

The hiring of a police officer to primarily concentrate on traffic enforcement is described as “cost neutral” in budget documents. The salary and benefits for that officer – who would be filling a vacancy – are expected to be approximately $90,000.

The preliminary 2011 budget includes $55,000 for economic development efforts with the City of Camas and the Port of Camas-Washougal. The budget also includes $5,000 for the Washougal School District Community Education, $7,500 for the Children’s Home Society and $4,000 for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.

A council workshop to discuss utility rates and budget issues is set for Monday, Nov. 8, at 5:30 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St. Public hearings regarding utility rates and the 2011 budget are scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m., at the same location.

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