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‘A dollar a day for parking is not a bad thing’

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 26, 2006

Hood River City Manager Bob Francis would like downtown motorists to have an incentive for plugging parking meters on Saturday.

He believes the additional $30,000 of annual revenue would help fund a Community Service Officer position. That individual could also generate another $15,000 of income by ticketing people for garbage, sign and other nuisance violations.

And by being on the street during the two hours each day that Ronda Gimlin, parking enforcement officer, fills out paperwork. The CSO would also be charged with handling evidence to preserve the chain of custody for law enforcement.

Francis said police officers now have to be pulled off the street — or paid overtime — to appear in a court case or handle routine citizen inquiries.

“We (budget committee) feel it would be more cost effective to go this route,” said Francis.

The Downtown Business Association also wants to hire a staffer. The DBA has given the city permission to form an Economic Improvement District. The assessment of six to seven cents per square foot on properties would cover the wages for a full-time events coordinator. It would also offset the DBA’s expenditures for street closures during Hops Fest, First Friday, and other crowded activities.

Francis anticipates that an EID will help the city qualify for state and federal grant funds that could be used for special projects.

If possible, he would like to dedicate the majority of Senior Account Technician Maria Montufar’s time to learning the role of finance director. Steve Everroad, who currently holds that job, will most likely retire in two years. Francis would like to have a staffer fully trained and ready to take over the complex accounting system — or train someone else. Montufar’s duties will be picked up by Jamie Duddles, account technician, and another person added to the staff of 61 employees.

The city plans to spend about $5.1 million during the next fiscal year in personnel services, including wages, salaries and benefits.

On a bright note, Francis said a Health Care Committee reviewed the available options and was able to keep the cost of health care static.

“Considering health care costs have increased by double digit percentages over the past few years, this is a noteworthy accomplishment,” he wrote in his annual budget report to the city council.

The city’s general fund will be reduced slightly, from the current $4 million to $3.7 million. Francis said some of his salary, and that of other administrators, is now being partly reimbursed from 28 other funds. Workers at city hall are now billing parking, police, fire and other accounts for time spent billing, collecting and consulting.

Francis said the money allotted to these dedicated services is only allowed to be used for a specific purpose. Therefore, he said enough extra capital has built up to pay for staff oversight.

“These other funds are healthy and will continue to be in the black. If there was going to be any chance of putting them in red we wouldn’t charge them,” said Francis.

He hopes — barring an emergency — to shave $280,000 off the $1.7 million deficit by July 1, and reduce that outstanding balance by $261,000 during each of the next three fiscal years.

There are a few revenue-generators being considered by the budget committee, comprised of citizens and city council members, to pay operating costs.

Francis said a stormwater maintenance fee, possibly $2.50 per month, could be charged to residents. And a business license of a yet undecided amount is also being given a strong look. Monthly parking fees at the city lots could also increase from $20 to $30 per month.

“To pay $1 a day for parking is not a bad thing,” said Francis.

He said the city could also net about $100,000 by selling off six little strips of property it owns around intersections. He said these parcels are not large enough to be developed — but might be attractive to neighboring landowners.

“If everything works out in this budget year we should be well on our way to getting the deficit down,” he said.

To reduce the 2006-07 total budget from $22,616,028 to $19,594,510, the city will cut some capital projects to focus on key infrastructure needs. Topping the work list for the upcoming year is the $5 million first phase of a major water main installation project.

For the next five years, the city will seek low-interest loans to replace the 80-year-old pipe that extends 17 miles, from the water source near Lost Lake to the reservoir on the southern outskirts of the city. The chlorination plant along that line will also be replaced this year.

Other significant public improvements for the upcoming year include the $600,000 repaving of State Street, $350,000 to create a loop water system at the waterfront, $130,000 for the construction of Armadale Street, and $35,000 to repave East Marina Way.

Francis said it is a continual challenge to meet growth needs with the existing revenue stream and staff levels. He said world events of the past year, especially the hurricane along the Gulf Coast and the continuing conflict in Iraq, have taken a toll on the local economy.

Gas prices for the service fleet, especially patrol cars, have gone up significantly. In addition, the cost of a water pipe which was $14 per linear foot before Katrina has now risen to $27.

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