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Agency budgets approved

Bridge upgrade, PERS bump 2003-04 costs

The Port of Hood River has added $6 million to its fiscal year 2003-04 budget to cover the cost of major renovations on the tollbridge.

Two other leading public agencies are holding the line on expenditures this year. The increases in the budgets of the City of Hood River and Hood River County primarily reflect the growing cost of health care and retirement payments.

The port is gearing up for the redecking of its aging bridge, a two-year project that is scheduled to begin next spring. The $8.5 million cost was slightly defrayed when U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, recently helped the agency score $1.35 million in federal funding. However, the port plans to pay for the remainder of the work unless other grant monies become available.

“This promises to be the largest and most complex improvement project in the history of the Hood River/White Salmon interstate bridge,” said Dave Harlan, port director.

That renovation is largely responsible for the spike in the port budget from $8,880,183 last year to the current $14,843,510. The port saw an increase of four percent in personnel services, but avoided a sharp climb in PERS costs — holding to a rate hike of only one percent. The agency has chosen not to pool its money with other special districts but to maintain its own fully funded account for 16 full-time, eight part-time and six to eight seasonal staffers.

Hood River County expects $315,000 in additional PERS costs during the upcoming year, along with a $196,000 rise in health care fees for 80 employees. In spite of those factors — and a three percent cost of living adjustment — the county reduced its 2003-04 budget from $33 million to $25 million. Although that change from the previous year appears significant, Dave Meriwether, county administrator, said it is due to the pay out of more than $3 million that had been held in a reserve fund for library construction and last year’s $5.5 million purchase of 19,000 acres of timber lands in Eastern Oregon.

“It’s a stopgap budget because of the state funding situation, there’s nothing very ambitious or proactive in it,” Meriwether said.

The city was hit with a 20 percent increase in health care costs and an additional 12 percent for PERS. Steve Everroad, finance director, said those jumps and a two percent cost of living increase for 55 employees are reflected in the budget increase from $8,891,000 to $9,648,000.

“We don’t have any large capital purchases, we’re just trying to maintain with what we’ve got,” Everroad said.

Both city and county officials are waiting for the outcome of disputed PERS reform legislation that could lower their anticipated payments.

Everroad said about $150,000 is listed in the new budget to cover the wages and benefits for three new paramedics positions. However, he said that funding will be reimbursed under a new merger between Cascade Locks and Hood River that goes into effect on Tuesday. In that agreement, Cascade Locks will pay $63,000 in quarterly installments for fire/ambulance services. In addition, Hood River will recoup another $68,000 from ambulance runs in that community and $17,000 for contracted services to cover the eastern border of Multnomah County.

The port recently made the final payoff on its $12 million debt for the 1985 purchase of the Diamond Fruit cannery complex. The agency, with a mission to promote economic development, now plans to utilize about $1.2 million in loan/grant funds to construct a light industrial building on its Wasco Street property. That structure will house up to four tenants and their leases will pay for the improvements.

This year, the county begins its 10-year repayment of forest reserve funds that were used to buy the Dean Building at 601 State St. That $1.7 million deal was made last summer through a lease that will be repaid at $204,000 each year, a figure which includes a two percent interest charge.

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