June 19, 2002 11:00 pm

The La Grande City Council approved its $34.6 million 2002-03 budget over the negative votes of two councilors Wednesday night.

John Bozarth and Art Rhodes said they objected to the budget committee balancing the budget using money that should be earmarked for economic improvement.

While City Manager Wes Hare and budget committee chairman Dan Stark praised the work of the committee in producing a workable budget, Rhodes and Bozarth said the group should have cut services rather than taking money from the transient room tax collections.

"I'm against removing the TRT funds of $75,000. We have to stop looking for other tax revenue to balance the budget," Rhodes said.

"We have to start cutting things. I haven't found any taxpayers who want more taxes. We should have made the cuts this year.

"The TRT funds should be set aside for economic opportunity. I'm going to vote against the budget because I don't believe we should take TRT funds out of the budget," Rhodes said.

Instead, he said, the city's various departments should reduce their budgets by 1 percent each.

Bozarth agreed with Rhodes.

Mayor Colleen Johnson said this was not the first time TRT money has been used to "patch up the general fund." She agreed the city needed to look at "additional ways to raise money."

Councilor Steve Clements said, "Eventually we have to ask ourselves if we want services and if we're willing to pay for them." He mentioned continually increasing costs residents have to pay in their everyday life whether more services are provided or not, such as cable television and gasoline for automobiles.

"But I doubt that $75,000 would buy enough commercial investment even to buy back that $75,000."

Councilor Doyle Slater, commending that the city had done surveys in the past, suggested that in the next one the city "should ask what services people want to cut. In the early fall, we should look at possible sources."

Slater said he was satisfied that the budget committee's action in not designating all the TRT funds for economic development was a one-time thing.

— Ray Linker