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New utility fee props up Gresham's budget

No cuts to police or fire proposed thanks to $4.7 million to be raised through a new temporary utility bill fee that went into effect in February


Gresham's budget committee is scheduled to approve the city's 2013-14 fiscal year budget on Tuesday, April 23.

It's pretty anti-climactic. No deep cuts or slashed services, thanks to a new $7.50 a month fee the city adopted and tacked onto utility bills starting this February.

That fee is forecast to raise $4.7 million, which funds 34 positions in the fire, police and parks departments that otherwise would have been on the chopping block.

The general fund, when combined with the utility fee, totals $49.8 million, which is just part of the city's $122.6 million operating budget.

The total budget for all funds is $384.3 million, which is more than this year's adopted budget of nearly $344 million.

Major expenses include three replacement fire engines costing about $1.5 million, replacing the roof on the city's public safety building to the tune of $750,000, and converting 8,000 streetlights to more energy efficient LED versions.

Both police and fire departments are seeing increases in overtime.

The fire department is forecasting a 50 percent increase in overtime — totaling $556,000 — because of the creation of a new fire academy needed to train six new firefighters, increased demand for overtime because of low staffing levels and expected vacancies, and because of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Police also experienced a 79 percent jump in overtime costs this current fiscal year, and is budgeting for another 10 percent increase during the next fiscal year, which starts this July.

Chief Craig Junginger said costly homicide and major crime investigations are driving up overtime costs, as is the replacement costs for six previously grant-funded COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) positions whose federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice has expired.

In an attempt to reduce overtime costs, Junginger last fall changed patrol schedules to put more officers on the street during peak call hours with fewer officers during slower shifts.

The fire department also is buying the three fire engines to replace those that have become too costly to operate in light of ongoing repairs.

Until the new engines are up and running, Gresham is borrowing two engines from the Portland Fire Bureau.

Also included in the proposed budget is a utility rate increase that averages about 5 percent each year for the next three years. The first increase would total 4.1 percent between the water, stormwater and wastewater rates, costing a typical residential customer an extra $2.94 a month.

During the Thursday, April 18, budget committee meeting, Mayor Shane Bemis voiced reluctance to increase utility rates, and requested a list of alternative cuts that could be made elsewhere instead.

If you go

What: Last of three Gresham budget committee meetings

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23

Where: Gresham City Hall Conference Center, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway



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