City budget in good shape in mid-year review

February 29, 2012

Budget directors don't like surprises.

City of Hood River Finance Director Lynn Rasmussen didn't have many to report during her mid-year financial report to the Hood River City Council Monday evening, and thus was fairly pleased.

"In the big picture the budget which was put in place in June is sound," she said. "It's moving in the direction we planned for and there is not anything we have to do to adjust."

That contrasts greatly with just a few years ago when Rasmussen had to tell the council they were facing gaping budget holes and that mid-year layoffs and furloughs would be necessary.

Since then, Rasmussen has been conservative in revenue forecasts across the board, and the city has planned accordingly. Last year the city operated in the black, and appears to be on pace to do so again.

City property taxes, its largest source of revenue, are projected to meet its budgeted amount of $1,650,000 and is on the same collection pace as last year.

Transient Room Tax revenues are expected to exceed its budgeted amount of $750,000, with $487,691, or 65 percent of the budget amount collected in the first six months of the budget cycle. For comparison, for the last fiscal year 59 percent of the $786,731 dollars collected through the TRT were collected in the first six months of the cycle.

City ambulance receipts are on the same course as they were last year, with 59 percent of projected budget collected so far and is expected to meet its budget. Other areas are all operating either at, slightly above or slightly below projected budgets.

One of those operating slightly under its projected revenue is the fire department, which Rasmussen said is largely due to waiting for reimbursement for two large responses to wildland fires in the summer.

One area of significant improvement for the city is in building permit revenues. The city forecast $300,000 in building permit revenue, the same as last year. According to Rasmussen's projections, 60 percent of building permit revenue typically comes in during the second half of the year, which is typically building season.

During the current budget cycle, 60 percent of the projected revenue was collected during the first half of the year.

An increase in large construction projects have led to a steady uptick in the revenue. After hitting a high of $475,000 during the height of the housing bubble in the 2007-08 budget forecast, building permits cratered to $214,000 the following year. They have been on the uptick ever since.

While the increasing revenue for the building permits is a good sign for the local economy, 90 percent of the building fees go to the Claire Company, which the city contracted its building permitting to after 2008-09.

The only surprise additions to the budget for Rasmussen was $30,000 in legal costs to the city for the Land Use Board of Appeals on the Walmart decision and the USDA phase 2 and 3 appeal for the city water line project. The entire legal cost budget for the year was set at $80,000.

However, the city expects to cover the costs from reserves, and if it wins the appeals, hopes to have some of the costs recouped.

Overall though, Rasmussen said she saw a good picture.

"We're in good shape," she said.

In other city council news from Monday:

City Manager Bob Francis announced that the planning department would be closed to drop-ins in the afternoons and on Friday as the planning department tries to work its way out from under an increased case load from the hospital's proposed expansion, the proposed Naito project and various port projects. The change in hours will likely last for the next two to three months, said Francis. Drop-in questions are welcome from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday.

City Attorney Dan Kearns gave an update on the Walmart LUBA appeal.

"The wheels of justice are grinding forward," he said. Kearns said there were no objections to the record submitted by the city, and the petitioners brief and assignment of blame were due March 1, at which point he would pass it on to the council.

Francis said that the record had been reopened on the hearing of the city's appeal of the USDA grant for the water line project, and that a decision would likely be coming by March 9.

In his mayor's call, Mayor Arthur Babitz said he had been called in for a four-hour deposition Monday in the case of Ludwig vs. Hood River, in which former police chief Bruce Ludwig is suing the city for wrongful termination. He provided no further details.

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