The City of La Grande is in a financial pickle. Citizens of La Grande, and employees of the city, are going to have to accept the fact that some significant cuts are coming.
The city announced last week that it its revenue is continuing to fall below what it is seeing in expenses. Over the course of the past five years, revenue increased by 13 percent while expenses increased by 17 percent. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that a few years of that and you’re in trouble. That’s where the city is today.
City Manager Robert Strope said that the shortfall will range from about $468,000 this next year to $646,000 by 2012-13. That’s a chunk of money to come up with, and it’s not likely that in this economy voters will approve a local option tax levy to fund the shortfall. The city is going to have to make cuts. The question is where those will be made.
The city will hold a series of town hall meetings in January and February to gather input from the public on its
The city could reduce services, from public safety in terms of police and fire to other services such as the pool, library and parks. It could shorten the city work week. There are a lot of possibilities, none of them pleasant.
Employees, too, should be considering what they can do to help with the crisis. Although the city cut a few positions this past year, employees are getting raises this year and are not having to take furlough days like most other entities like the school district and university and many businesses are having to do. Many of us have been in that situation for a year. The city’s employee bargaining groups will need to seriously consider how they can contribute to helping the city make it through this financial crisis and protect jobs from layoffs by agreeing to new terms in their contracts.
The public needs to understand that for the city to save money, it has to cut services. About 75 percent of the general fund is for personnel. The city can’t pull money from sewer, water, street or Urban Renewal District accounts. State law specifies that money in these so-called “enterprise’’ funds are generated by revenue earned in those accounts and cannot be used for other purposes. The new utility fee, for example, is limited to the street fund.
The city council has some tough decisions to make in the coming months. Citizens who want to comment on services and suggest how the city might go about reducing its projected deficit should plan on attending the January and February town hall meetings. A lot of what La Grande citizens have come to take for granted in terms of city services is on the line.