Baker City manager touts solid financial shape
Steve Brocato will go over the city’s books with the 14-member budget board on Thursday evening
The city of Salem’s general fund is more than 10 times the size of Baker City’s.
Yet at $1 million apiece, each city has about the same size ending-fund balance — the city’s savings account.
That’s an example of the message — conservative budgeting leads to good results — that Baker City Manager Steve Brocato wants the Budget Board to hear Thursday when the board, which is composed of the seven city councilors and seven appointed members, meets for its fall budget update.
The public meeting begins at 6 p.m. in council chambers at Baker City Hall, 1655 First St.
Brocato said he has also asked the three city councilors-elect — Milo Pope, Clair Button and Aletha Bonebrake, who will be sworn in in January — to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Brocato said he sees the budget as “the plan for how we intend to attain our goals.” The overall theme that Brocato will present is that the City is doing what it said it would in its 2007 annual report:
• On economic development, “this town is way ahead of almost every town I talk to,” Brocato said.
• The planning department “has been reinvented” and it’s “done more for this town” under the direction of Don Chance than all the planning done previously since Baker City was incorporated, Brocato said. “They’re not just writing rules. They’re making changes.”
• Brocato also touted the performance of the Building Department, Public Works Department and the city’s finance staff during an hour-long interview.
He said he wants the Budget Board to view the budget’s big picture rather than focusing on relatively small purchases such as vehicles. Based on the city’s annual budget, the city spends, on average, more than $30,000 every day — more than the cost of most vehicles the city buys.
He also said there was too much focus last spring on proposed salary increases for department heads, including reports published in the Baker City Herald. Reporting and editorializing regarding salary increases were exaggerated and unhelpful, he said.
“It’s an insult to the city, me and the budget committee for people to think we treat taxpayer money that way,” Brocato said.
Brocato said that up until last month’s candidates forum, he’d heard talk from residents about “the city going broke.” That kind of talk has since subsided, he said.
While he expected some City Council candidates to elaborate on that theory, none did, and he says that “nothing could be farther from the truth. The last council and the current council have established a solid balance sheet and cash flow, and I don’t think anyone can beat Baker City. We live in a conservative town where people don’t spend beyond their means, and neither does the city.”
The city’s financial picture is enhanced in part, he said, because both he and Finance Director Jeanie Dexter came to their jobs from the private sector. Dexter, he noted, was a certified public accountant, an “extremely conservative” atmosphere “where you have to account for every dollar. My business involvement was also extremely conservative, and we practice that” in the roles in the public sector, he said.
On the revenue side of the equation, Brocato said he doesn’t see any immediate threats despite the current recession.
About one-third of Baker City’s general revenue comes from property taxes, and assessments in Baker County are on the low side, he said. The nation’s lending institutions, contrary to earlier published reports, are reporting year-over-year increases in commercial and residential mortgages.
Baker City’s second source of revenue, also about one-third, comes from franchise fees. The last third comes from the state.
Brocato said reports indicate gas tax receipts haven’t suffered so far in the recession and that he expects franchise fees from such sources as cable television to remain steady.
“People will drink and smoke more and stay home and watch television,” in a recession, he said. “There’s no reason for concern over revenues. Banks are lending more than they were a year ago. We’re panicking, and we don’t need to be.”
The current budget “is even healthier than we said it would be,” he said, with an anticipated ending fund balance June 30, 2009, of about $1 million, about $150,000 higher than the projected $850,000.
If the economic downturn continues, the city’s management team will use the priorities identified in the annual report to make needed cuts, but that probably won’t be necessary for the current budget, Brocato said.