City general fund back in the black

October 26, 2011

The picture was not particularly artistic, but in a city recently known more for its creativity than fiscal conservatism, the pie charts and bar graphs illustrating Hood River's financial situation sure were pretty.

After over a decade in the red, the city of Hood River's general fund was in the black this year according to an audit conducted by the Tigard-based auditing firm Pauly Rodgers and Co.

The fund ended the 2009-10 fiscal year with a balance of negative $75,259 and ended the 2010-11 year with a positive balance of $191,522.

"Two years ago the budget committee and council made some difficult decisions about reducing services and reducing our staff by 20 percent," said City Finance Director Lynn Rasmussen after presenting an audit update to the city council Monday night.

"Finally, on the finances you are seeing the results of those difficult decisions."

Two years ago the city had to reopen its audit in the middle of the year to make budget corrections and wound up cutting 20 percent of staff as well asimplementing a six-month furlough program.

Rasmussen said that while the decisions were painful and unpopular at the time they had helped pull the city out of a fiscally untenable situation.

"The directors have done an outstanding job with their budgets," Rasmussen said. "With the 20 percent reductions and the furloughs there were some big sacrifices by staff."

One of the other main reasons Rasmussen and Mayor Arthur Babitz gave for the city being back on track financially was efforts to bridge a disconnect between policy and budgets.

Babitz said that many policy directives were being made and being put into the budget when the actual numbers needed to get an accurate idea of what the budgetary impact would be were either inaccurate or not yet available.

"Anyone who runs a business can tell you that if the numbers are not right, don't even bother," Babitz said.

County finances staff worked to bring department directors into the budgeting process and ensure a flow of timely and accurate budget information.

"We set a policy direction and we are getting there," Rasmussen said.

The general fund balance hit bottom at a nearly $300,000 deficit in 2007, and has been a slow, bumpy path to recovery since then.

Babitz and Rasmussen acknowledged there is much work to be done to keep the general fund consistently in the black, but said the preliminary audits findings were a good sign.

"This was an important piece because they were testing our numbers and showing they were right," Rasmussen said.

The city is hoping that its revenues will continue to increase in all areas, particularly in sewer and water funds after completion of an upgrade to the city's aging water line.

"In a time when many cities are tapping into the emergency reserves, we have actually been able to build ours," Rasmussen said.

Now that the general fund is in the black, Babitz said he hopes the city is able to keep that way, and the city's financial numbers can go back to being boring and routine, and not something that gets a round of applause at council meetings.

"There has been a culture change," he said. "We expect it and (citizens) should expect things to continue this way.

Also at Monday's meeting:

The city conducted a public hearing on the possibility of selling several city-owned properties to raise funds to cover an outstanding balance of approximately $300,000 on city hall renovations. The council will receive written public comments on the plan through Nov. 9 and will continue the public hearing Nov. 14.

Signed a memorandum of understanding with several municipalities in Oregon and Washington recognizing the work of the Columbia River Crossing and to continue to work cooperatively for finding a replacement for the Hood River Bridge.

Signed an agreement with Parkdale Rural Fire Protection District and Cascade Locks fire to continue its FireMed program, which will now be managed by LifeFlight.

Revealed the most boring voter decision since Calvin Coolidge was sent to the White House by unveiling the winning entry in the "Name the Sandbar Contest" to celebrate the flood-created sand bars fifth anniversary.

"Around here we have dull names for things so I thought I would put it to the public to see what they could come up with," Babitz said.

The chosen name? "The Sandbar."

(Turn to page B1 for the full story.)

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