Panel OKs $85 million budget draft

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The city Budget Committee approved an $85,171,054 budget proposal for fiscal year 2023-24 at a May 17 meeting following discussions about Police Department staffing and budgetary areas that required clarification.
The budget will be become official after approval by the City Council, likely at its June 14 meeting.
City Manager Nancy Brewer presented highlights in the budget, saying
“For the most part, we are proposing a budget that continues all of our existing services at their existing levels,” Brewer said. “There are some noticeable callouts; one is this doesn’t include funding to reopen the jail. In terms of looking at what the jail needs, we’re talking at least five permanent corrections officer positions that would staff the jail 24/7.”
The cost to do that, she said, would be about $750,000.
During the Lebanon Police Department’s report, Police Chief Frank Stevenson noted the city population is rising while the number of officers is decreasing. Use of force is “definitely on the uprise,” as well.
“However, LPD just hired its seventh officer this year, with two others in background checks right now. Once those last two positions are filled, LPD will be back to fully staffed.
Yet even as a fully-staffed department, Lebanon’s police force is still below average compared nationally. According to Stevenson, the national average is 2.2 officers per 1,000. When fully-staffed, LPD has less than one patrol officer per 1,000, or 1.6 per 1,000 when all detectives and administration are counted.
Brewer noted that other communities in the Willamette Valley are funding extra officers through levies or added utility fees.
“I think it’s imperative to understand that we are pretty much the only one (in the valley) that’s this low,” Stevenson said. “Everything the Lebanon Police Department is known for – community policing, outreach, pro-activity, etc. – is slowly being diminished because I don’t have the resources to address those.”
Brewer continued her presentation on the city budget concerning revenue and expenditures.
“Our revenue projections are down pretty much across the board, even with property taxes up,” Brewer said. “We are seeing reductions in assessments and grant money.
“Our expenditures in total are down a little bit on the operating side, with some ups and some downs by department. That’s pretty normal.”
She said most communities in Oregon are facing the same problem that Lebanon is right now: incoming revenue is not growing as fast as expenditures. Lebanon is projecting to spend $1.2 million more than the city is bringing in.
“The general fund is our major operating fund that gets property tax money,” Brewwer said. “It is fiscally challenged; we are having a structural problem and we are not the only ones. We have a fund balance.
“We’re not at negative, we’re not deficit-spending. There is not a cause for severe panic, (but) there is cause to look hard at what the future is going to be and how to best balance services going into the future to try and keep within our revenue stream on an annualized basis.”
Brewer presented a five-year financial plan for the General Fund, an attempt to project where the city is and where it would be in five years if current trends remain. It provides staff an idea of potential future budget shortfalls and gives them an opportunity to create actions today that could improve future budgets.
“For the future, I think the General Fund is the largest area of concern,” she said. “We recognize the need for additional police officers, we would like to be able to reopen the jail, I think the Senior Center needs to have at least one more activities planner offering services. We don’t have a public information officer, we don’t have a disaster management planner; both of those are positions I think are important.”
She added the parks department is understaffed, a need that should be considered as Cheadle Lake Park undergoes expansions and improvements in the coming years. Brewer also touched on the topic of street repair, a problem that seems to have no answer.
“We continue to have no resources to fix local streets,” she said. “What we get from the State every year in gas tax money is not enough. You all know, driving around town, our residential streets are in bad shape and we don’t have money coming in for that.
“We continue to see decreases in state gas tax money as more people switch to EVs or, as gas mileage is going up and we see the state trying to figure out how they’re going to manage (demand for ODOT, county and city needs).”
Brewer also said she expects Lebanon’s population to hit 20,000 by next year, and that Lebanon is falling out of the “rural city” category, which means the city can no longer access grants targeted for rural cities. A growing population also means more requirements for housing production.
The committee also heard budget reports from the Lebanon Public Library, Senior Center and Transit, community development, IT, human resources, finance, engineering and public works, and city recorder departments.
Committe members asked for clarification regarding funding for a new safety coordinator position.
A safety coordinator was hired last August to provide training and get safety/regulatory compliance issues “under control,” Human Resources Manager Angela Solesbee said.
Finance Director Brandon Neish explained the new $130,000 position was funded last year through savings from a vacant position out of one of the city’s utility funds.
Councilor KJ Ullfers Ullfers clarified it by explaining that funding for an unoccupied position at the wastewater treatment plant was moved to Human Resources to fund the safety coordinator position.
The wastewater plant position continues to be funded in this year’s budget, Neish added.
Ullfers and Councilor Michelle Steinhebel indicated they were uncomfortable with the fact that money from residents’ sewer bills was used to pay for a safety coordinator position.
“It was an opportunity to use savings from a position that was being left open purposely for the year to assess a need for that position at the plant and start trying to address some of the safety issues we have had as an organization,” Brewer explained.
Utility fees will not fund the position from here on out.
Public hearings were held and motions passed for state shared revenues and the city budget.
During the city budget public hearing, Lebanon Downtown Association representative Jeannie Davis addressed the committee to inform about the work they do encouraging economic vitality in the downtown core, and to let the committee know they have been working to catch up on holes in past financial reporting records to regain their 503(c) status.
A line item for LDA is in the budget, but the committee requested a contract be drawn up with LDA to require the organization provide quarterly records before receiving funding.
Councilor Wayne Dykstra asked if more funds could be found to add to the $10,000 line item for Pioneer Cemetery maintenance.
There are a couple of different groups currently forming to work on improving the cemetery, Mayor Kenneth Jackola said, and he recommended waiting for those groups to get their footing before extra funding is allotted toward the project.
Public hearings were held and motions passed for five urban renewal district taxes and the URD budget.

Highlights in the proposed budget include:
♦ $20,000 to upgrade the city’s website.
“We’ve been notified a couple of times that our site does not meet ADA requirements, largely for vision-impaired people,” Brewer said.
♦ A $50,000 increase in the sanitary sewer lateral budget.
“We have more than fully expended the budget this year,” Brewer said. “We have pulled money out of the manhole project (for this) and we have already got people lining up for July.”
♦ A safety coordinator position in human resources to address overall safety and risk management.
“We’ve had a pretty significant increase the last couple of years in worker’s comp claims in employees being injured on the job, and we have not done a good job of record keeping in terms of mandatory trainings that we had people go through,” Brewer said.
♦ An increase of $20,000 in the parks fund for part-time summer casual work, funded by Build Lebanon Trails, for trails maintenance.
“There is a huge amount of mowing and weed control and trash pickup and sweeping on those trails that needs to be done in the summertime, so BLT has agreed to fund that,” Brewer said.
(Recently, BLT attempted to perform the duties for the city, but city insurance requirements prevented them from being able to do so, which is what led up to the decision to fund a city staff person for the job.)
♦ Added a mechanic in the custodial and building fund.
“We have for a number of years sent our vehicles to Benton County Public Works for maintenance,” Brewer said.
“That takes the vehicle out of service for three or four hours (for an oil change), and Benton County shop rate has gone up significantly in the last couple of years.”
♦ A bump to a full-time position of the Senior Center activities planner to continue providing more services for the improvement of quality of life for Lebanon seniors.
For more detailed reports from the departments, visit Youtube.com/watch?v=xdPfLRhCunU&t=3418s.