City didnít go far enough to reduce costs

By Observer editorial July 29, 2010 12:41 pm
The La Grande City Council’s decision to place a local option levy for public safety on the November ballot would be a much easier sell if voters had been assured that the city had done everything possible to reduce its general fund budget before seeking a tax hike. No doubt that the city is in a financial bind and that public safety is a top priority for a government entity. But there are many of us who are not convinced that the city council did everything within its power to reduce costs.

La Grande will be asking voters to approve a levy of $500,000.

Support for the levy would be a no-brainer if people had seen a more significant effort on the part of the city to reduce costs. A few positions were not filled, but nowhere in city government were sacrifices made like what occurred throughout the private and public sectors over the past couple of years.

City police and fire unions have agreed to not take cost of living adjustments in the coming year, and for that they should be commended. But by and large the rest of the city staff have skated through this ongoing recession, which dates back to the fall of 2008. There aren’t a lot of people, public or private, who can say their pay and benefit levels today are as good as they were in 2007 or even 2008. And now the city of La Grande is asking all of us to pay more in taxes to ensure the two most important services a city provides are protected — services that could have been at least partially protected if staff had made some sacrifices.

Something’s wrong with this picture. If voters reject the levy, cuts will be made and a few jobs likely will be eliminated. Had the council insisted that cutbacks be made and shared by city staff, savings would have been realized and jobs spared. At the very least it would have substantially reduced the amount of the levy — and shown voters that every effort was made to lessen the impact on an already strapped public.

The city has put this community in a difficult situation. The only positive is the fact that the pool bond will be retired next year and the net effect of the proposed $1 per $1,000 tax rate will be a reduction of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $50 per year. That’s not a lot of money, but every dollar counts for those who have had their work days, pay and benefits cut.

The Observer plans to weigh this measure carefully before making a decision on whether to endorse it. The city should have tightened its belt much more than it did. That fact will be hard to ignore.