The Baker City Budget Board approved the proposed 2021-2022 city budget Tuesday evening, May 18, during their second meeting.
The board, which includes the seven city councilors and seven other city residents, also met on Monday evening.
The board didn’t make any changes to the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The City Council will adopt the final version of the budget in June.
The budget is similar to the spending plan for the current fiscal year, with a general fund totaling a little more than $7.8 million, up $26,000.
During Monday’s initial meeting, the board elected Randy Daugherty, a former city councilor, as board chairman, and Jerry Shaw as vice chair.
Daugherty raised concerns about the beginning working capital in the general fund — cash the city has on hand at the start of the fiscal year — rising to almost $1.63 million, up from $1.36 million last year and almost $1.2 million the year before.
Daugherty met with City Manager Jon Cannon, and Cannon discussed the proposed beginning working capital amount with Kent Bailey, formerly the city’s auditor.
Cannon said he and Bailey were both comfortable with the figure, and Daugherty did not propose to change the amount when the board met Tuesday.
Details from the proposed budget include:
• Police department budget increases by about 7.5%, from $2.38 million to $2.56 million.
The department’s staffing level won’t change, at 17.68 full-time equivalents. Most of the increase is in personnel costs, which increase by about $103,000, to $2,178,000. This includes a $33,000 rise in the city’s share of retirement costs for police employees through Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
• Fire department budget increases by 3.6%, from $1.95 million to slightly more than $2 million.
The biggest increases are in PERS ($25,000) and health insurance ($23,000).
Staffing increases by one-quarter of a position, from 16 full-time equivalents to 16.25.
In his budget message to the board, Cannon wrote that the proposed budget includes $30,000 to begin what he anticipates will be a two-year process to upgrade the city’s software used for financial accounting and utility billing.
“The City currently uses outdated, customized, and heavily modified software to manage its finances and utility billing,” Cannon wrote.
Cannon also addressed effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as economic factors.
“It is expected tourism will continue and provide positive opportunities for investment and growth within the city,” he wrote. “The state government is projecting to ease executive orders at the beginning of the Fiscal Year allowing for increased economic activity throughout the city. The housing market remains as a strong sellers’ market with residential pricing elevated compared to previous years. Despite property tax compression, increased property values improve tax revenue opportunities for the city.”
In other business, the budget board heard a proposal from Beverly Calder, representing the effort to create a train quiet zone in the city, meaning freight trains wouldn’t sound their horns at public crossings except in emergencies.
Calder asked the city to include $10,000 in the budget for the project, which would require the city to modify five crossings to ensure vehicles couldn’t reach the tracks when a train is passing.
Calder said the group promoting the quiet zone will continue trying to raise money for the work.
“Twenty years ago when we looked at it, the price tag was really astounding,” said Calder, who is a former city councilor. “I don’t remember the numbers but it was pretty much out of our league. There was a great amount of public discussion, there was really great feedback from the community, it was put to a vote, it was not passed at that time.”
Calder said changing the crossings would make them safer.
“Every crossing ends up being safer; safer for drivers, safer for pedestrians, safer for all public street users,” she said. “The bonus is that the trains don’t blow their horns anymore at 4:30 in the morning and throughout the school day at South Baker.”
In November 2019 the City Council voted to consider submitting a notice of intent to seek a quiet zone, which doesn’t obligate the city to take further action or to spend any money.
The budget board declined to add money in next year’s budget for the project.