Managing Money

Council should focus on city coffers and outstanding deficit

January 14, 2006

City Council faces a daunting question when it meets at 6 p.m. on Jan. 17 at City Hall: whether to give City Manager Bob Francis more money with the budget in the red.

Council should keep an open mind on it, but that openness must be comparable to what the city coffers allow.

The correctness of a 15 percent or higher pay raise for Francis based on performance is, at best, inconclusive, based on the open session employee review that Francis consented to in last week’s council meeting.

This, and any other management pay raise decision, must be based on available funds. That is the same basic process any family, company, or organization uses to decide on adding to its expenses.

Most people would agree that such decisions come down to this: Do we have the money now, and is it the right thing to do given our other debts and responsibilities?

What should dominate the discussion is the $1.17 million budget deficit, technically illegal, and the city’s one-step-forward, two-steps-back progress in meeting the State Auditor-imposed deficit reduction plan.

The city’s budget has been out of compliance with the Oregon Constitution since 1998, when the first deficit of $80,992 was recorded. In 2002 the state auditor granted the city leniency to create a deficit-reduction plan, which brought it down from $675,000 that year to $397,000 by the time that Francis arrived in 2004.

By June of 2004, the deficit had grown once again to $580,756 and one year later it stood at $1.17 million.

Council should avoid the argument that Francis should receive a raise because his pay is less than other department heads or that it is below that of city managers of comparable cities.

Many municipalities pay their mayors or chief executive officers less than their public safety department heads.

In the private sector, commissioned sales people often make more money than their department heads.

College football and basketball coaches are often paid more than the departmental deans and even the school’s president.

At most, the city might consider giving Francis a partial increase, with the potential for annual increases in inverse relation to that million-plus deficit.

In Francis’ case, he deserves credit for courage and confidence to allow his job performance to be aired in public last week. (Personnel reviews are normally done in closed, executive session.)

But that is not enough reason to give Francis the raise. Nor is denying a 15 percent or greater pay increase in itself a negative comment on the job he is doing.

However, the council and Francis himself must consider the budgetary demands of the city over the next few years, until it can reach budgetary compliance.

Who but the chief manager himself is best equipped to understand the need for balance and restraint at this time of fiscal difficulty for the city?

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