Amidst harsh economic realities, West Linn hopes to do more with less

The city council voted unanimously Monday to approve the proposed 2014-15 biennial budget, capping a month-long process that forced officials to make some difficult decisions about what to add, keep or cut.

The budget passed by the council was nearly identical to that which was approved by the West Linn Citizens Budget Committee back in May, with the only major difference coming in the capital outlay for street maintenance fees.

At a work session earlier in June, councilors directed City Manager Chris Jordan to amend the budget to include no increase on street maintenance fees — as opposed to the 5 percent increase that was originally budgeted — until the matter could be revisited later this summer.

The proposed budget for the next two years is $89.8 million, in comparison to the 2012-13 budget of $84.32 million. Of that, $18.75 million is for capital projects, with a budgeted reserve of $10.3 million.

As a whole, the approved budget reflects an analogy that has become popular throughout city hall: a transition from the luxe Nordstrom atmosphere to the streamlined basics of Costco. From cutting the number of full-time staff to not funding community events, West Linn was forced to take some drastic measures to fill a $2 million shortfall in its budget.

Driving factors in the city’s budget gap are the spike in Public Employees Retirement System rates this year (up $400,000 a year), declining property tax income (down $200,000 a year) and increasing health care costs.

“This budget balances the needs and the wants of the community,” Councilor Thomas Frank said. “Every department has been impacted at some level, but with that we have a budget to move forward with that I believe puts a good emphasis on the core services of the city to minimize impact on citizens.”

Fully funded in the budget are the city council’s 2013 goals, including economic development projects, aquatic community center steps, the Blue Heron project, the master trails and transportation system plans and the city’s centennial birthday celebration.

However, the list of items not funded this time around is much longer, including the adult community center addition, Robinwood Station upgrades, an infrastructure resiliency assessment, McLean House upgrades, city hall safety improvements, water master plan projects, transportation system plan projects and municipal court security.

To compensate for the drop in revenues and increased costs, the city has asked a number of key staff members to cut their positions from full to part time, while other positions were completely eliminated.

In the midst of those harsh realities, councilors expressed optimism just before voting to approve the budget.

“We do have a balanced budget, and we’re doing it without increasing debt,” Frank said.

Councilor Jenni Tan pointed to the recent increase in library hours as an example of how to keep improving even as funding decreases.

“Especially in this economy, our city is being forced to do much more with less,” Tan said. “If we can continue on this, I think that’s the way to go.”

The approved budget can be viewed online at

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