Albany council closes in on fee details

Albany council closes in on fee details

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Albany City Hall STOCK PIX

Albany City Hall

Albany city staff laid out a grim financial picture for the City Council during a work session on Monday that explored the possibility of instituting a street or utility fee.

Calling the exercise educational, Public Works Engineering and Community Development Director Jeff Blaine combined what he described as three to five presentations into one.

“These are all preliminary conversations. None of these, at this point, are staff recommendations or council recommendations. This is an effort to try and educate ourselves,” he said, adding that the information he presented was only meant to move the ball forward in ongoing conversations surrounding the city’s need to generate additional revenue and cut costs.

Before walking the council through what the implementation of a street and/or utility fee would look like, Blaine laid out the financial foundation the city currently sits on. In June, the Council adopted a balanced budget that saw cuts to nearly every department including fire and police. Blaine said that in previous discussions about the budget, councilors have asked city staff to “make departments whole.”

Blaine said that direction was vague in that it could mean Council was requesting staffing levels be brought back to the 2018-2019 levels which in themselves had been cut from previous years. Since the recession, he said, nearly every department had been able to add hours back into its staffing but those hours still fell short of where they were in 2010-2011.

The information, he said, was important to understand for the council to determine a revenue goal it hoped to meet by instituting one or both of the fees.

“We want to make sure the fees are focused on establishing a specific service for the revenues they get,” Blaine said.

According to Blaine, 50 Oregon cities have implemented service fees—43% of those were transportation fees and 26% were classified as a public safety fee.

“You’re not charging new ground here,” he said.

If Albany charged a $10 street fee, it would rank as the fourth highest street fee when compared with cities Albany is most often grouped with, Blaine said.

Implementation of the fee could vary. The Council could choose to charge a flat rate or group businesses based on a variety of factors.

In implementing a utility fee, Blaine said there were four scenarios thought they did not qualify as staff recommendations.

Under the first scenario, if the city issued a flat fee, residents would pay an additional $63 a month. The fee would fill the gaps for first year of the next budget cycle, replace the public safety levy and fund other high priority needs. If the city opted to implement the fee based on water meter size, the average increase for residents would be $53 a month.

The other three scenarios ranged in increases from $42 to $25 limited what they would pay for. The smallest increase accounted for the city using the funds to fund the police and fire departments at 2018-2019 levels and nothing else.

“I still feel like the voters need to have a say in this,” councilor Mike Sykes said. The City Council can institute a fee without a vote of the public—a tax must appear on the ballot.

Any new fee, according to Blaine would take six to eight months to implement.

The council opted to continue the conversation at its next work session.

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