Bode calls for new approach to shaping city's financial plans

The often routine City Council meeting where the upcoming fiscal year’s budget is considered was less than smooth sailing on Tuesday night, with a handful of citizens pointedly questioning city spending priorities and one councilor opposing the 2013-14 spending plan.

With Councilor Cate Arnold absent, the $184.9 million budget passed by a 3-1 vote. Councilor Ian King dissented.

The city of Beaverton’s 11-member Budget Committee, which includes Mayor Denny Doyle and the five city councilors, earlier discussed the particulars of the budget — which the mayor’s office presents to the committee — in three marathon evening sessions in late May. Although the public is invited to the meetings at City Hall, an official public hearing on the finalized budget isn’t held until the night the council is set to vote on it.

The committee’s earlier rejection of a proposed property tax increase of 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to cover increasing library and street light expenses wasn’t enough to placate those concerned about how taxpayer money is distributed within City Hall.

Barbara Wilson, who regularly follows the city budget process, questioned funding of the Sister Cities program and its related travel expenses. The program’s $43,000 budget allotment falls below the $50,000 threshold that requires City Council discussion, a situation Wilson would like to see change.

“I’d like to see the council and the mayor focus on the budget with the sense that you’re spending somebody else’s money,” she said.

Wilson also questioned a $32,000 travel expenditure for six Sister Cities representatives to attend a dedication of the South Plaza at The Round at Beaverton Central and asked the council to eliminate Sister Cities from the budget.

“I don’t like this,” she said. “This is our money.”

Gary Kniss questioned the proportionality of Mayor Doyle’s budgeted $168,320 salary compared to lower figures he cited for neighboring cities’ mayors, including those of Portland, Seattle and Boise, Idaho.

“Do you really feel that’s fair to us as taxpayers?” he asked of Doyle, who suggested that Finance Director Patrick O’Claire could “share some other numbers we got from the area that demonstrate a different picture.”

Ramona Crocker, a regular speaker at council meetings and a Budget Committee attendee, also questioned city employees’ salaries as well as ongoing investments in the Central Plant for heating and cooling at The Round, which she called “the city purchase that keeps on costing taxpayers.”

Crocker also called out the Oregon Technology Business Center’s $157,000 budget for its ongoing role as an entrepreneurial incubator.

“I understood it to be a temporary kind of incubation project,” she said. “Eight years later, the taxpayers are still supporting it. I would like to know when it is due to hatch and become an independent, self-supporting entity.”

Two of the four councilors present on Tuesday night expressed concerns about ballooning expenses as well as the budget process itself.

While a property tax increase was thwarted, the 2013-14 document includes a 10 percent increase in the base charge for water customers as well as a 10-cent increase in the consumption rate.

Councilor Betty Bode, critical of the proposal to relocate City Hall to the city-owned South Office Building at The Round, called for new council- and committee-generated policy directives to help shape the budget well before it reaches the review stage.

“It became very clear at the budget meeting this year, to try to put your finger in it and stop spending. We hope that message got there,” she said. “I hope we don’t have departments coming to ask ... for more money without looking within their departments to shave something off if they want to do something different.”

King, who was absent for two of the three Budget Committee meetings because of what he said were scheduling conflicts, cast the lone dissenting vote against the new budget.

“I don’t have a comfort level on this budget, based on how things proceeded,” he said earlier on Tuesday, praising committee members and citizens for questioning salary and tax increase proposals. “The questions I submitted weren’t adequately answered. That left me feeling less comfortable than I historically feel.”

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