The Cottage Grove Budget Committee approved the city’s proposed budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year Tuesday night.
The proposed budget comes after a year of deep financial uncertainty, a year which also saw the city launch a Small Business Emergency Loan program to offset local economic woes while taking advantage of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act reimbursements through the Coronavirus Relief Fund to invest in a number of pandemic-related relief items for the community.
Conservative budgeting and a number of other partnerships and projects helped the city navigate a fiscal year which essentially forced it to fly blind. Though vaccines have provided a silver lining this year, city staff created for the 2021-22 year a budget which assumes higher risk levels will continue to bog down the economy.
“Because of this continued uncertainty, we have again prepared a flexible budget that will allow some ability to adapt,” said City Manager Richard Meyers in his introduction to the budget committee.
At $39,855,653, the proposed budget is $371,467 less than the previous year’s.
The proposed number does not include expected revenues from federal packages as rules and disbursement schedules have not yet been released.Meyers’ introduction listed three guiding principles of the proposed budget:
• “Protect our ability to provide the essential services — police, water, sewer, street operations and the support functions that make sure those services can be provided.
• “Participate in jumpstarting our local economy by assisting our local businesses in restarting, having projects that will bring jobs and activity to the community and supporting projects funded with grants and loans.
• “Be conservative in our guestimates — not too drastic — not too optimistic. Leave some room for potential adjustments during the year.”
Under the proposed budget, the city’s permanent rate would continue at $7.2087 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is estimated to generate slightly more than $5 million of collectable tax revenue.
A 2-percent taxable value increase has been factored into the budget.
The 2021-22 budget also proposes to restore nearly all city positions which were laid-off, with some changes.
Talks with the Lane Council of Governments has resulted in an agreement to move its Senior and Disability Services into the Cottage Grove Community Center when it reopens, possibly this fall.
The Cottage Grove Genealogical Society will be moving to a remodeled space within the center and South Valley Athletics is taking the old Chamber of Commerce office.
The proposed budget is including $15,000 to enter into a partnership with South Valley Athletics to expand recreation programs throughout the community, including youth summer day camp activities at the library and multi-generational activities to involve seniors.
Plans are also in the works to move South Lane County Fire and Rescue dispatch back to Cottage Grove by creating positions for four new communication specialists and the designation of a communications specialist lead position within the police department.
It is hoped the change will dramatically reduce response times and improve safety.
As previously reported on in The Sentinel, sewer rates are set to rise by an average of about $6.45 on July 1.
The move to raise rates was voted on unanimously by the Cottage Grove City Council on April 12, based on a five-year financial plan presented on Feb. 22 from the city’s consulting firm FCS Group.
While FCS Group reported that customer growth alone would be sufficient to provide for rising operating expenses in both water and stormwater, capital plans and operating expenses for sewer caused the need for the rate increases.
The report recommended three years of 12 percent rate increases.
During the first day of the budget committee meeting on May 6, Councilor Mike Fleck asked city staff to explain the steep increase in personnel costs which saw a jump from $634,568 in the 2018-19 fiscal year to $999,365 in this proposed budget for 2021-22.
Fleck worried that this increase is unsustainable and would be passed on to the ratepayer.
Staff pointed out that these numbers had already been factored into the FCS Group five-year plan and that it would actually save money in the long run as infrastructure projects will be done in-house rather than through a third party.
“Caution should be taken when comparing actual expenditure numbers to proposed budget numbers,” stated a memo to the committee on Tuesday.
Succession planning is also a significant factor in planning the budget as several personnel will be retiring.
Meyers summed up the proposed budget as way to segue easily into a post-pandemic world should restrictions ease.
“The 2021-22 proposed budget lets us hit the reset button and be ready to restart programs and activities,” he wrote. “We don’t quite know when that restart will be, but this proposed budget gets us ready to move forward quickly and recover from the pandemic even better prepared.”
The city council may vote to adopt the proposed budget as early as May 24, when its next meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m.
Due to continuing COVID-related restrictions, the public is encouraged to attend meetings virtually by visiting the city’s website, accessing the relevant agenda and using the corresponding GoToMeetings link on the agenda page.
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