The City of La Grande’s choices for how to solve its budget crunch aren’t getting any easier as the town halls have occurred and people have turned out to lobby for everything from the pool and library and parks to making sure the city protects its basic services like police and fire. Among the choices, though likely not a realistic one, is the possibility of a local option levy.
In letters to the editor citizens have also suggested the possibility of dissolving the urban renewal district so that the tax revenue within the district could go to public services, as well as the need for city employees to sacrifice some of their pay and benefits to prevent drastic cuts to important services. For example, the city spends a lot of money, well over $200,000 a year, on overtime. Too, city employees haven’t endured the wage freezes, furloughs and outright pay cuts that many of us — both private and public — have.
There is no doubt that every service the city provides is critical to our well-being, none moreso than police and fire. Public safety always has been and should remain the top priority of any local government. But the pool, library and parks are important too.
So what to do? The city council doesn’t have an enviable task.
Of all the ideas that have been presented, the one that makes the most sense, as a starting point, is asking the employee bargaining groups to consider making some sacrifices in their contracts to lessen the amount of cuts needed. And, perhaps most importantly, to save jobs. Preventing layoffs by giving up pay raises and taking furlough days helps families and preserves the ability to still provide most of the services that were carried out before. Seventy percent of the city budget is for personnel. These are real people who provide the services the public has come to expect. Seems like they might be willing to make some concessions for the sake of saving some jobs.
The recession we’ve been in for the past two years isn’t an ordinary downturn in the economy. To survive, we’ve all had to give a little — and in some cases, give a lot. But protecting jobs as well as the ability to continue providing services at nearly 100 percent is a good thing. Times are going to get better, but bridging the gap in the interim is critical. And that takes all of us.
A local option levy might sound like an easy way around avoiding the pitfalls, but the fact is that the likelihood of winning voter approval isn’t very good right now. Concessions and cuts in the city budget are going to have to be made somewhere.