Camas mayor’s $166M budget focuses on ‘land, people, honesty’

Biennial 2021-22 budget linked to state’s phased COVID-19 reopening

The mayor of Camas said this week his proposed $166 million biennial 2021-22 budget will focus on “land, people and honesty.”

“This budget represents the first steps to a new, bright future for Camas,” Mayor Barry McDonnell stated in his message regarding the 2021-22 budget.

The biennial budget is the first for McDonnell, who was elected as a write-in candidate in November 2019.

“This year has challenged our community like no other. From the global pandemic to the recent wildfires, the world around us continues to test our resolve. But what I have learned is that we, as Camasonians, will always persevere and always come together — even when we can’t in person,” McDonnell stated in his budget message. “Today, we hope it comes as welcome news to hear that the city of Camas remains strong financially. Through thoughtful planning and careful choices, the City can and will endure whatever comes next.”

McDonnell said he hopes to promote the three initiatives — land, people and honesty — over the course of the budget’s two-year cycle.

The mayor’s full budget includes plans for building trails in the city’s North Shore; caring for the historic, city-owned Leadbetter House; cleaning Lacamas Lake and supporting the city’s “growing parks system” under the “Land” initiative.

The mayor’s “People” initiative incorporates “a special focus on children and older adults,” McDonnell stated. “In addition to enhancements for parks, library, street safety and essential resources such as clean water, you will find funding for improvements (such as) accessible sidewalks and ramps.”

Under the “Honesty” initiative, the mayor has laid out a plan for a “full communications program built on transparency, engagement, accessibility and ease” as well as plans for new technology “to better connect with our citizens, council, staff and stakeholders,” and growing the city’s work around equity and “being fair and impartial.”

The city of Camas is currently hiring for the newly created director of communications position. The new communications director will report to the new city administrator, Jamal Fox; be considered a member of the city’s senior leadership team; and receive an annual starting salary of $91,440 to $109,512.

According to the city’s advertisement for the new communications director position, the new senior member of the city’s executive team will be expected to “oversee internal and external communications; build positive relationships with community members and the media; represent the city at public events; implement marketing and branding strategies; work with the media in different facets, including press releases, talking points for staff … (and) make the city shine.”

Budget linked to phased reopening

At the Camas City Council’s Oct. 5 workshop, Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson told council members that, due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor’s proposed budget is tied to Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased reopening plan.

“2020 is a year of uncertainty,” Huber Nickerson said. “We are planning the budget to address that uncertainty.”

Under the mayor’s 2021-22 budget, if the county were to remain in its current Phase 2 of the reopening, the Camas budget would essentially be a “status quo budget” with no seasonal hires, employees permitted to work remotely or outside and only essential capital projects allowed to continue.

If COVID-19 cases continue to rise and the city goes back into the more-restrictive Phase 1, Huber Nickerson said the budget would allow the city to freeze all hirings, not allow overtime or travel and “potentially could furlough employees.”

Once the city moves into Phase 3, the budget will allow non-essential capital projects approved in the 2020 budget. Many of the mayor’s new projects, including those tied to the “land, people, honesty” initiatives, would be on hold until the city reaches Phase 4 status.

City councilors heard the budget’s “high-level highlights” at their Oct. 5 workshop, but expect to take a deeper dive into the budget later this month and throughout November.

Councilmember Greg Anderson asked how the November election might impact the budget.

“Luckily, the election is in early November, so we have the ability to accommodate pretty quickly if we need to,” Huber Nickerson said. “We’ve prepared staff that this is an adaptable budget.”

The finance director added that COVID-19 impacts “are more of a worry at this point” than the November election outcomes.

Councilmember Don Chaney questioned specific ways the budget might have a special focus on children and older adults, as the mayor had stated in his budget message.

“We’re still in flux as to what that is,” McDonnell responded.

Huber Nickerson added that the council members would see more details about proposed capital projects “geared toward children and older citizens” as the budget process progressed.

McDonnell said he and city staff would have those types of initiatives and budget proposals “broken down” for council members at future council workshops and meetings.

“I just assumed there were some ideas and maybe you were comfortable sharing them, but I can wait,” Chaney responded.

Chaney and Councilmember Steve Hogan both asked Huber Nickerson and McDonnell for a status update on the city’s new Balancing Act software that has been touted as a way for the public to help guide budget decisions.

Huber Nickerson said the goal was to have the Balancing Act program available by the weekend, Oct. 10-11, and open for citizens to weigh in on proposed capital projects for “the next week or two.”

Hogan said he would like to have more information about how the city is communicating with and engaging the city in the budget process.

“A lot of the mayor’s initiatives are pretty wide open, pretty broad,” Hogan said. “How will we (understand what the community would) like to change versus what we are planning to change?”

“The communications person will help tremendously,” McDonnell responded. “The format that we are doing will be more engagement than we’ve had before.”

Using the example of the mayor’s focus on moving Camas’ parks and recreation department forward, Hogan asked what process the city would use “to give people a chance to tell us ideas for how parks and rec would move forward.”

McDonnell said he would rely on the new communications director — who has not yet been hired by the city; the deadline for applications is Friday, Oct. 9, according to the city’s advertisements — as well as council members.

“With the communications person, that’s going to be able to help facilitate this and the direction we’re going,” McDonnell said. “The other part is you guys as council members — engaging with your constituents as well, maybe (at) ward meetings … and the town halls and things we can orchestrate.”

Budget highlights

The mayor’s proposed 2021-22 budget calls for $166.75 million worth of expenditures, including $60.76 million for employee salaries and benefits, $35.94 million for supplies and services, $27.62 million for capital projects and $15.12 million for debt service.

If approved, the budget would draw down the general fund balance by nearly $2.9 million, from a projected beginning general fund balance of $8,090,500 to a projected ending general fund balance of $5,192,526.

Highlighted expenditures and projects in the mayor’s budget, several of which would not be feasible until the city enters Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, include:

  • Improvements to Crown Park and the Camas Community Center;
  • resurfacing the Grass Valley tennis court;
  • building bleachers and making ADA improvements at Louis Bloch Park;
  • a new water reservoir;
  • sidewalk replacement on Astor Street;
  • improved intersection at Grand Ridge and Brady;
  • the purchase of a new fire engine;
  • several Lacamas Lake-related initiatives, including a water quality project, dam improvements, trails around the lake and improvements to the boat launch at the Wildlife League site;
  • replacing the technology system for financials, permitting and asset management; and
  • implementing electronic patient care reporting technology for emergency medical responders.

To read McDonnell’s 2021-22 budget message, visit https://bit.ly/33B7mSz. To watch a video of the Oct. 5 city council workshop, visit cityofcamas.us/yourgov ernment/minuteagend avideo.

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