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After a couple fixes, council adopts budget

Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman and councilors Bill Tierney, Sally Moncrieff and Donna Jordan will pool some of the money they receive as stipends to pay for membership in the Natural Step Network, an Oregon-based group providing resources for communities interested in long-term sustainability.

Their offer to personally foot the $300 bill came as the council reviewed and reconsidered some of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee's recommendations before adopting a 2011-12 spending plan Tuesday. The budget takes effect July 1.

At councilor Jeff Gudman's request, the 14-person budget committee had eliminated money the city spends on the Natural Step program. But while councilors Mary Olson and Mike Kehoe opposed restoring funding for the membership Tuesday, Gudman ended up supporting it.

Jan Castle was among several citizens testifying in favor of the membership.

She said the program has helped the city reduce water usage, procurement costs and fuel use, and replacing standard bulbs in traffic signals with LEDs will likely save enough energy to pay for the cost of membership 'many times over.'

'We have to change the way we think to adapt to a changing world in order to lay a solid foundation for the future,' Castle said. 'Our entire culture and economic system are built on the assumption of cheap, unlimited resources.'

Paying out of pocket for the Natural Step membership was Tierney's idea.

Offering at first to pay for it on his own, Tierney said he hoped to make the appropriation 'uncontroversial.' Hoffman, Jordan and Moncrieff then chimed in with offers to split the difference.

But the four did not opt to open their wallets to bring back another membership the budget committee recommended for elimination: $3,000 to participate in the Community Streetcar Coalition.

Also Tuesday, Tierney pulled back on repealing franchise fee hikes the council recently approved.

The fee hikes are temporary and aim to raise money to support local schools in challenging economic times. In all, the city has scraped together an extra $2 million to give to the Lake Oswego School District.

Taking effect as soon as July, the fee increases would affect Allied Waste, Northwest Natural and PGE residential customers, whose monthly payments would rise an average $4 to $5 for the three services, or about $60 each year. Businesses would see bigger hikes on their bills.

Tierney, who supported the fee hikes initially, later indicated he would move to repeal them.

But on Tuesday, he said he didn't see a way to raise the $775,000 anticipated from the temporary fee hikes. An alternative option offered by councilor Olson would only come up with about half of what was needed without seriously digging into the city's reserves or starting the year with a budget deficit.

'These are poor choices,' he said, noting he'd rather avoid putting the city at risk.

'I do not take increasing fees on citizens lightly,' Tierney said, 'But I want a balanced budget,' one that takes from reserves only to make tangible improvements to things like streets and parks or to invest in and grow the city's tax base.

Olson attempted to step in and make the motion to repeal the fee increases but couldn't because, unlike Tierney, she was not on the side of the majority who supported putting them in place.

'Thanks for the advance notice, Bill,' she said as the franchise fee discussion ended.

Adding the franchise fee revenue back into the city's expected resources meant the council could scrape together money for additional projects before adopting a final 2011-12 spending plan.

City Manager Alex McIntyre's proposed budget of $149.1 million for the next fiscal year included $80.8 million for operations, a roughly 6 percent increase from the prior year's estimated spending. Of the increase, about two-thirds aims to support Lake Oswego schools and pay off the West End Building.

The adopted spending plan injects more cash into planning and development efforts in the Lake Grove area, funnels $50,000 toward invasive species removal on public land, supports an $80,000 upgrade of the city's website and allocates $55,000 in tourism-related money for stabilization of the city-owned iron workers' cottage.

It also dedicates $127,000 for natural resources education, including a new backyard habitat certification program, arborist services and a watershed coordinator. About $20,000 will go toward completing an analysis of possible sites and conceptual designs for a new public safety facility, although it's unclear when the city might ask voters to consider a bond measure to pay for constructing the project.