The Albany City Council did not make a decision regarding the institution of a utility fee during its meeting on Wednesday.
The council had tabled the issue Monday to decide whether or not to send the question to voters and for the return of absent Councilman Bill Coburn, giving him the opportunity to weigh in.
“To be consistent with what I said in prior meetings, I’m not in favor of the fee,” Coburn said Wednesday, adding that if the council opted to move forward with a fee, he would be in favor of sending it to the ballot.
The council is not obligated to ask voters prior to instituting a fee because it is not considered a tax.
Staff brought several options to the council that included a street fee and utility fee, noting that several Oregon cities had implemented such fees. The council did not settle on a procedure for implementing a fee or decide on how much a fee should be, although amounts ranged from $10 to $65 per month between the two fees.
The funds, staff said, would help alleviate the pressure of a coming shortfall in the city’s budget. The council adopted a balanced budget in June but it saw cuts across city departments including police and fire. The next two-year budget cycle is expected to see the city of Albany fall $11 million short.
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“You’re looking for, in my mind, information that would provide you an idea of what exactly is going to happen in the next biennium,” City Manager Peter Troedsson said Wednesday, offering to complete a budget exercise that would give the council a more clear picture of what services would have to be cut if the city did not generate additional revenue in the next cycle.
Troedesson added that the city would see a 3% increase in property tax revenue but costs would rise by 5%.
Councilman Rich Kellum reiterated that he wanted to see the fee brought to voters. Additionally, he wanted to hear from city staff about the value of each program and department, noting that cutting spending across the board was not, necessarily, equitable.
“You’ve heard from staff,” Mayor Sharon Konopa said. “You’ve heard from the police department and fire department. At budget time this room was packed. We have been through this, folks; we know what’s coming up. You have some tough choices to make.”
Konopa added that the public has also been given an opportunity to weigh in with an online tool that allows them to budget the city’s money, funneling funds to programs they value while cutting from others.
Councilors Kellum, Coburn, Mike Sykes and Alex Johnson II said they preferred to go before the voters. Konopa argued that a campaign would cost the city time and money.
During Monday’s meeting, before tabling the issue, Councilor Bessie Johnson warned that the council could be placed in the position of placing the fee on the ballot, being denied by voters and then opting to institute the fee, as the council is permitted to due so by law.
Troedsson said the sample budget for the next budget cycle would “take a while” to compile but staff would bring it back before the council at a future meeting.