The Whistle Free Zone will now be fully funded after the City of La Grande Budget Committee voted to use money in the unappropriated fund.

After two nights of meetings, the city’s new budget for fiscal year 2018-19 was approved by the budget committee.

On Tuesday night, the budget committee discussed whether to use the unappropriated funds budget to supply the remaining $125,000 needed to fund the Whistle Free Zone, which will upgrade the railroad crossings in La Grande and avoid trains sounding their whistles before each crossing.

A line item in the Street Reserve fund already has money toward the Whistle Free Zone, plus $40,000 from the Urban Renewal Agency and the final piece from the unappropriated funds budget, will, City Manager Robert Strope believes, give the city the amount it needs to pay for the zone.

At Monday’s budget meeting, the Urban Renewal Agency proposed an under levy to provide funding for the city’s general fund totaling an estimated $377,818. The under levy is an annual decision made by the agency and helps to keep core economic development programs intact.

The 2018-19 budget maintains general staffing levels for the departments, according to the city manager’s budget message, which is attached to the budget and explains any major changes that were made to the budget.

Proposed changes include funding a new full-time electrical inspector position, increasing the urban forester position to full time and securing a grant-funded police officer. The budget also includes the currently unfilled
assistant public works director position.

The proposed general fund budget estimates revenue of $9,618,147, including transfers into and expenditures of $10,290,969, for a net of -$672,822.

“We plan to address the shortfall by using the fund balance as recommended by the Fiscal Committee to avoid service cuts and fee increases over the next few years,” City Manager Robert Strope wrote in his message to the budget committee. “The resulting general fund ending balance will be $3,679,661, which includes $300,000 of contingency funds and $1,200,000 in reserve for future expenditures.”

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer