Spotted owl, squad cars and more boost revenue

Christmas came early at Forest Grove City Hall, where the first-quarter financial report was unexpectedly full of extra money.

Fund after fund had “higher revenue than expected,” according to Susan Cole, the city’s assistant director for administrative services.

“It’s very much a good-news story,” said Cole, who reported to the city council at the Nov. 26 city council meeting.

The General Fund, used for most city operations, exceeded its revenue projection for July through September by $170,000. There were three main sources of the extra cash:

•$60,000 more than expected in planning-fee income from several big projects (by the Forest Grove School District, Clean Water Services — the county's sewer agency — and Bienestar, a nonprofit housing agency).

•$60,000 saved through a vacant police position.

•$50,000 more in property taxes due to better collection rates.

Other funds also saw unexpected revenue.

The Building Services Fund took in $120,000 more than expected from plumbing-permit and structural-plan-review fees.

The Equipment Fund got $14,000 more than expected from the sale of six old police cars, which sold for an average of $2,800 each instead of the estimated $1,000.

The Sewer Fund got $35,000 more because it had underbilled Pacific University and caught the mistake only after the first-quarter budget was already estimated.

The Water Fund had $100,000 more revenue due to a spotted owl—the discovery of which forced the city to relocate its timber harvest to a site that allowed a larger harvest. That money paid for harvest costs, but water revenues still came out ahead because a hotter than usual August and September raised usage, bringing in an extra $70,000.

The Information System Fund didn’t bring in more revenues but it spent much less than expected, although only because a big purchase expected this quarter happened earlier.

Each department spends its excess money differently, Cole said. The water and power departments save it for future projects. The building-services department, which uses its money to pay its employees, saves it to avoid layoffs during lean times.

The city could put its extra $170,000 in the General Fund toward potential costs of a lawsuit it’s fighting. But it usually saves it for maintenance projects, sometimes planned, sometimes not. If part of the roof blows off the library, for example, the city won’t have to lay off librarians in order to repair it.

“The unexpected definitely happens,” said Cole, who noticed the surprising string of fund surpluses while reporting to the council. “As I was going through the numbers I was feeling pretty happy.”

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