A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Added service fee lacks council support

Written December 4th, 2019 by Hasso Hering
Tom Cordier, a retired business excutive, talks to Mayor Sharon Konopaas Councilor Dick Olsen listens during a break in Wednesday's Albany council meeting.

Mayor Sharon Konopa talks with N. Albany resident Tom Cordier during a break in Wednesday’s council meeting. Councilman Dick Olsen listens.

There are not enough votes on the Albany City Council to impose a monthly utility fee to support city services, at least not yet.

After another fruitless discussion about raising money to cover projected budget shortfalls in the next few years, the council Wednesday agreed with a proposal by City Manager Peter Troedsson to prepare a report showing what the results of the shortfall will likely be.

For months the council has talked about how to raise more money or, in the alternative, but in less detail, how spending might be reduced.

The revenue alternatives are to collect a monthly fee for public services such as police, fire protection, parks and the libraries; collect another fee for street maintenance; collect either one or the other or both; ask voters for an increase in the supplemental police and fire tax coming up for renewal in 2020 or the following year; or drop the extra public safety tax and collect the same amount as part of a utility fee instead.

Depending on the revenue target chosen, the fee might run as high as $60 a month.

On Monday the council reached no conclusions and, because Councilman Coburn was absent, decided to discuss it again when he was back.

He’s not in favor of a fee, Coburn said Wednesday, and if the council wants one, it should go to the voters. Judging by what they said before and again on Wednesday, Councilmen Rich Kellum, Alex Johnson II, and Mike Sykes feel the same way.

That makes four members, enough to decide any council issue.

Mayor Sharon Konopa wants the council to settle on  a fee amount and impose it by legislative action. If the council insists on an election, she wants to know who would organize a campaign to get it passed.

The mayor says she does not want to see city services erode for lack of enough revenue. “I want to be able to keep a livable community that we enjoy,” she said Wednesday.

To which Sykes replied: “I want an affordable community.”

North Albany resident Tom Cordier, who’s been retired for years, told the council it should reduce costs by cutting back on personnel the way the corporation did when he worked as a VP at Teledyne Wah Chang. He rejected the idea that payroll cuts have to mean reductions in service.

Cordier reminded the council it would have about $1.5 million more in property tax income this year if it weren’t for CARA, the downtown urban renewal program.

The council has been told that the shortfall for the 2021-23 biennium looks like $11 million. Troedsson says that’s a worst-case projection.

Wednesday’s outcome puts the revenue issue off for now, at least until the city staff comes back with the report on what the effect of cutbacks would be. (hh)

36 responses to “Added service fee lacks council support”

  1. thomas cordier says:

    I hope Mr. Troedsson does not just give a “sky is falling” opinion of possible effects of reducing headcount. Cross training employees to fill the vacancy gaps goes a long way to stabilize operations. Typically managers will protect their turf and give dubious reason why it won’t work. We don’t often see City gov’t get lean and mean–in fact I’ve never seen one but it can be done

    • Craigz says:

      Agreed. Seems like (most) Government political figures and administrators only know how to increase spending, taxes and fees. When it comes to the tougher decisions of actually cutting spending they need to think more like a small business person struggling to survive the tough times…..most in Government just cant find a way to do that (or don’t want to).

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Lean and mean is simply not possible in local government. Why?

      Because local government’s first priority is self-perpetuation – always expanding, always creating more dependency, always demanding more and more money from its citizens, always spending more and more.

      When left undisturbed, government will always create further advantage to itself. The inevitable result is a citizenry that slowly descends into servitude.

      Government is incapable of getting lean and mean. The “consumer” cannot choose a different provider. The “consumer” pays whether he likes government or not.

      And given the power to “impose” a fee by “legislative action” to preserve a “livable community” that the Mayor enjoys, there is absolutely no incentive for local government to seek out efficiencies or economies of scale.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        “… there is absolutely no incentive for local government to seek out efficiencies or economies of scale.”

        You blithely dismiss the fact the city manager does that every time when creating the balanced budget as required by state law.

        • Cheryl P says:

          If the budget is balanced (where total revenues are equal to or greater than total expenses), then why is there a shortfall? Especially in the light of the fact that the CM has “conservatively estimated income lower than anticipated and expenses higher”. And why, if it has worked to well in the past and has even won awards for it, has it suddenly ceased?

          • Ray Kopczynski says:

            “If the budget is balanced (where total revenues are equal to or greater than total expenses), then why is there a shortfall?”

            It is balanced because (as required) it takes into account those shortfalls (and revenues) when creating the budget for the upcoming biennium[s]

            “And why, if it has worked to well in the past and has even won awards for it, has it suddenly ceased?”

            What has “suddenly ceased?” The process has and is still working as designed IMO.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “Mayor Sharon Konopa wants the council to settle on a fee amount and impose it by legislative action.”

    Of course, she does.

    Unable to make her case to the people, Konopa defaults to authoritarian control over democratic choice. She cares not one wit for the erosion of freedom that results.

    The Dear Leader has spoken. Be quiet and get your wallet out.

  3. My Real Name John Hartman says:

    The mayor’s vision… nickel and dime voters to maintain a mythical image of days past….not unlike the CARA finance facade. Its hard to imagine Albany taxpayers objecting to the fee plan.

    The mayor seems convinced that what the City spends now is some minimal baseline, below which Albany becomes ungovernable. If that is so, then one might wonder how it is that City leadership has brought the community to this precipice. Is Leadership’s only fiduciary duty to maintain the status quo.

    Let the City Manager do his doomsday work-up. Do it honestly and let the people who pay the bill see real options….not simply add fees to fulfill some Leader’s municipal fantasy.

  4. Mike Patrick says:

    I agree with Mr Cordier, get lean and mean. I would also like to know how this 11 million gap appeared out of nowhere? Time to trim your budgets and try again.

  5. Jim Engel says:

    Well damn, why don’t I just sign over my monthly S/S check to the council! Why do we need a City Manager! Cut the Mgr’s income. Will the new Police Chief be getting more than the prior one? If so and why!? Let’s make cuts at the top where the $$ is being paid. For all his expertise the City Manager was hired for we’re no further out of the forest than before he came.

  6. Ray Kopczynski says:

    The City Manager is tasked with coming up with a balanced budget. As always, that starts with estimates of incoming resources. The standard mantra has always been to do it conservatively: estimate income lower than anticipated and expenses higher. That has historically served Albany VERY well. (The city regularly wins awards for financial openness & acumen.) The city manager has done that and his job well. The city budget is balanced. Yes, he is already anticipating shortfalls – and will come up with scenarios to address them. Let the city manager do his job.

    It is scary (to me) to be trying to micro-manage his job. If that is going to be part of the “new normal,” why bother to have a city manager? To the extreme, let’s simply have the voter’s decide every line item in the budget!… Oh – I forgot – we already do that by electing people to make the hard choices sometimes necessary. (There will *always* be folks who complain about the rising cost. That’s a given.) All I heard last last night was “…cut, cut, cut!…” NO discussion about the revenue side.

    And doesn’t it seem odd that Corvallis has had fees for some time now yet we “don’t see any mushroom clouds” over there?.

    • Rich Kellum says:

      Ray, We do not have the 40000 subsidized members of the population from other peoples money that Corvallis has, 30000 students and 10000 OSU Staff and families subsidized by the taxpayer

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        The existing process Albany has (starting with the Strategic Plan) works! I don’t believe anything is sufficiently broken necessitating a major-serious overhaul of the current process in place.

        So — I look forward to seeing what council comes up with without continually kicking-the-proverbial-can-down-the-road and gutting services…

      • Steve Reynolds says:

        Boy this is a can of worms; opening this argument. Corvallis is living off the future wages of students in the form of debt that can never be discharged, most kids have no idea what they’re getting into. On the other hand, the city of Corvallis is upset because the University doesn’t pay any taxes for city services they receive because they operate as a “non-profit”. I believe they do voluntarily pay for a few police positions.

        So the only way Corvallis can recoup any of those lucrative student borrowed funds is heavily tax those in the city that are being paid from those funds or tax student housing, in the form of M50 property tax/bond laws. The University simply raises the wages of their employees to cover the additional tax burden which in turn causes the kids to borrow more of their future income. I don’t see a corresponding economic model in Albany, however Lebanon seems to be following the same model with the new medical school.

      • centrist says:

        I’ve been considering your use of “subsidized.” Can’t buy it.
        OSU offers a product at a price that people are willing to pay. Whether those people rely on family or loans is irrelevant to this discussion. The money paid for tuition, room, board, etc changes hands many times. Nothing wrong with that.
        Albany’s longtime economic lever has been industry. Problem is that it isn’t the driver it once was, and there’s no apparent successor.
        The City Manager has a clear view of the costs of services, as well as revenue availability. Closing a gap brings about much wailing and gnashing of teeth as groups OUTSIDE of government seek to protect their favorites.
        Reconciling was easier to accomplish in industry. Decisions got made at the narrow end of the pyramid.
        The public sector is a different game. I visualize an inverted triangle with voting populace opinion at the broad top.

        • Rich Kellum says:

          CENTRIST ‘
          Corvallis is a subsidized economy, it is primarily supported by funds from outside the economy generated. thousands of public workers paid for by state tax dollars and fees from students, ten s of thousands of students whos money comes from loans or their families outside the Corvallis economy. Their economy in real terms is half the size of Albanys

  7. Denise Brimhall says:

    There needs to be a community tax charged for all new buildings being built in our community. There also needs to be a community tax on homes being purchased. Just that alone would make up the shortfall. If these taxes were in place residents wouldn’t have an added 60.00 a month cost. Just a thought.

    • thomas cordier says:

      Denise–a simple residential building tax (permit) of $20,000+ has been in place for years. Hundreds of family homes have been built which translates to $2M—still not enough.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        As you’re well aware Tom, SDCs have never covered the total cost. The other comment (not you) about growth effectively being the panacea to our problems is totally upside down IMO. That said, growth is inevitable – period. How the city (and all others) manage it is the key question. Even conservative population projections are scary. The “good ‘ole days” (which never were) sure aren’t coming back!

  8. Bill Kapaun says:

    My SS check has increased by $117 over the last 10 years.
    The city wants half that at the drop of a hat!
    Each year I drop another 1% below the poverty level, thanks to the city.

    Don’t forget the increase in franchise fees (SALES TAX), storm water charges and God knows where else they’ve slipped it to us. I even have to pay 3% on my phone cards, as if my phone calls had an impact on city expenses.

    Their TOTAL YEARLY fee increases shouldn’t exceed the cost of living raises we get on our retirement.
    It’s getting difficult to maintain our homes in a semi reasonable state of repair.
    I guess they want more derelict houses popping up?

  9. H. R. Richner says:

    How about an analysis of the cost of all the unfunded mandates by the state. Then, proceed by sending demands for payment to Salem. Our city council rarely protects us from the state. At times, it even makes decisions anticipating its new regulations. In my opinion the state is out of control when, e.g., it has to approve our plans for public restrooms at the train station.

    • Steve Reynolds says:

      “unfunded mandates by the state”

      That’s the real issue, the city is just along for the ride. With super majorities there’s not a lot you can do, those currently in power can pretty much do whatever they want with no opposition. Maybe ala carte city services or look into the private sector taking over some functions, there’s not a lot of options.You’re bouncing up against the reality of economics.

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Good idea. While I believe everybody ought to have a satisfactory retirement, from the big cheese VP to the low man on the totem pole that gets laid off, it is unfair that the State unloads the PERS mess on us and the rest of the cites. This year the State gobbles up 25% of our Albany property tax income. Next year it is projected that they will grab 33% of our property tax income. It is forecast that this will only get worse.

      It’s time for our idiots in Salem (consider House Bill 2001 that says your neighborhood can no longer be reserved for single family residential development) to come up with a way to pay for PERS.

      • Steve Reynolds says:

        Not sure calling those in Salem names, is going to help, I think many of them are looking for answers. These were promises made before many of us were even born, it’s kind of been dumped in all our laps because the bill has come due. Many complain that the millennial generation is acting out, I think they recognize in a way they are getting saddled with a lot they have zero say about and they’re not happy. That being said, all the city can do is work within the current scenario. Councilor Kellum advocated for cutting everything down to the minimum, see what you have left over and figure out what else can be funded. Mayor Konopa has a different theory, fund to keep services at a certain level, more affluent individuals will stay in the community and keep revenue levels up. Councilor Johnson says let’s look at an entirely different type of tax (sugar), one that’s spread out across the entire community. They all have merit, the question is how much more can you take out of the community in the form of taxation before you actually start damaging it?

        I think one interesting scenario is this timber lawsuit. Perhaps instead of a monetary award, maybe the smaller counties can negotiate for more say in the state government, perhaps an electoral college type representation instead of just a popular vote where Multnomah county controls everything. In exchange for not filing more lawsuits to obtain funding and maybe forgoing this current billion dollar cash award, they get additional representation, everything seems to be wide open at this point. Maybe a more parliamentary type outcome might work out better, where the smaller counties band together on certain policies they have an interest in and vote in blocs to pass legislation . Otherwise I think these counties have figured out how to fight back, they are just going to keep taking Salem to court until it’s brought to it’s knees. A jury in Linn county is an entirely different animal than a jury in Multnomah county.

        HB 2001… yea, where to start. You have 40 million people south of here living in a state that is in shambles and you have this little utopia with only a few million and these wonderful boundaries which prohibit development. Every sliver of land is going to become more valuable.The question is, if you’re not going to increase supply, then how do you control demand? Do you want a lottery system to allow those that want to live in Oregon, pay a fee to get in, or grandfather neighborhoods that have been here a certain number of years against higher taxation or zoning changes? I don’t know how you control demand other than make it more expensive or go through a government gatekeeper.

        • H. R. Richner says:

          I would love that trade. Instead of monetary awards for which the state will promptly sur-tax us, lets reconstitute the senate by providing one senator for each county. The present bicameral system makes no sense.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          ” I don’t know how you control demand other than make it more expensive…”

          Gentrification accomplishes that at the expense of folks who cannot afford to stay or buy-in.

  10. Bill says:

    Well Sharon Konopa must be seriously out of touch with the citizens of Albany to suggest such a tax. Either that or she really wants to encourage the departure of Seniors, Disabled and anyone else on a fixed income to which such a tax would be an unreasonable burden.
    Sharon Kanopa must be personally very well off indeed to actually propose such a thing. This is exactly what has placed California in so much distress that the population is declining due to a mass a exodus out of the state!
    My wife and I fear we may not be able to reside in Albany until we die as we had planned, simply due to the rising costs here. We are taking active steps to allow for departure if nessesary. We don’t want to leave family and friends but may not have a choice!
    God save us from the likes of Sharon Konopa.

  11. Terry Hails says:

    I have never seen any governmental entity talk about pay cuts…never. They just keep on fueling the need for yearly cost of living raises by raising the cost of services which in turn triggers another yearly cost of living raise. Heck, even our misguided leaders vote into law such idiotic things as yearly minimum wage increases. (I don’t recall but this may have occurred from a vote by the people.) Anyone else see the detriment to this insanity? City leaders you get no more money until you can show the physically visible results to the citizens, from the money you already receive. If I was home owner who paid taxes (I rent and pay taxes), but if I was a home owner, I would be livid at the state of our city streets. What an embarrassment!! I ridden on horse trails that were in better shape.

  12. Anon says:

    It is irresponsible to throw out a worst case scenario budget shortage number and then have the elected officials being told to go find the money for a stated shortage that will likely be much less than that.

  13. centrist says:

    I see much pointing, but little problem solving here.
    Until a group brings forward a solution that a majority will accept, there will be no change.
    While I have skin in the game, my talents and skills lie elsewhere. Who can establish a concensus solution?

  14. Jim Engel says:

    Well damn again……I’d hate to go out for coffee with the above commentators & try & decide who is gonna pay!

    • Bill says:

      Well isn’t that special..and so not to the point. We have paid enough! We need to cut and I’m quite sure it’s easy enough to do (If your name is anything but Sharon Konopa)
      If it comes down to a Head Librarian vs running 5% of our population out of town then lose the librarian! We’ll be just fine without one. Even better, lose Sharon Konopa…That might go a long way toword improving actual livability….Liveability…what a joke!. Liveability is the ability to live and afford gas and lights!

      • centrist says:

        JE got my point.
        The analogy that comes to mind regarding many commenters is that they are a group of dogs(tied together st the tail), with each claiming to have THE solution. Much noise and motion, but little progress.
        Having said that, it’s not clear to me who, within the City’s form of government, has authority to limit spending, decide which get funded to what level, or sunset programs which no longer have merit.
        Perhaps HH or one of the RKs could enlighten us

  15. birdieken says:

    We have no money so let’s do a world wide search for a head librarian. The library won’t be able to open without one or function when they are on vacation. The city is not serious about cuts only the status quo.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      Some folks put a high value on city libraries and their ability to function well for the entire community…

  16. Bill says:

    As home owners are taxed right out of town the tax base will go down and taxes will go even higher. Your government never has to tighten their belts the way private citizens do. “It’s good work if you can get it”.


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