A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany services fee has emergency clause

Written June 7th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The Albany council and city manager during Monday discussion of the coming city services fee.

Albany’s proposed ordinance imposing a city services fee or tax includes an emergency clause, meaning it will take effect as soon as the council passes and the mayor signs it. This could happen on Wednesday night, when the ordinance is on the agenda of the council’s regular meeting.

Janet Steele, president of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, briefly addressed the council during Monday’s work session and objected to the emergency clause. Her point was: Why the rush?

There’s been no rush, City Manager Peter Troedsson reminded the council later. The council has been working toward this new charge for the last couple of years in order to avoid sharp cuts in city programs and services otherwise made necessary because expenses — mostly in personnel — have been rising faster than tax revenue.

Without an emergency clause, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the mayor signs it. That would give opponents a month to launch a signature drive to force a referendum, for which they’d need 10 percent of Albany voters. Once the ordinance takes effect, it would take an initiative to repeal it. Getting an initiative on the ballot requires 15 percent of the voters.

Monday’s council discussion brought no surprises. Councilor Matilda Novak opposes the measure in passionate tones, calling for cuts in spending instead. Bessie Johnson doesn’t like the new fee but says the council has no choice but to go ahead with it. Dick Olsen insists property taxes have not risen in proportion to property values because of the constitutional caps voters imposed in the 1990s. To get the full flavor of the discussion, you’ll want to watch and listen to the YouTube recording available here.

Mayor Alex Johnson II raised an eyebrow over a section in the ordinance that calls for civil penalties of up to $1,000 for violating the fee ordinance in any way. The staff told him that language is already in the city’s utilities law.

The fee or tax — $9 a month per household or any developed property, slightly less for apartments, more for commercial properties  — would take effect on July 1 or as soon as the city can get the billing going. The amount is to be listed separately in addition to the charges for water, sewer and storm water.

If people pay only part of their utility bill, the money they do pay will be applied to the services fee first, according to a resolution also up for council action Wednesday night. (hh)

35 responses to “Albany services fee has emergency clause”

  1. thomas earl cordier says:

    How much time has Troedsson spent reducing costs, increasing efficiencies rather than for two years planning on this increase. Thanks Matilda. This council imposes unwanted fees because they can. Again separate wants v. needs. They know voters will not approve this fee so they will not ask them.
    It’s all crap

    • centrist says:

      Easy there TEC
      The City Manager doesn’t set policy. That’s the Council’s territory. Troedsson could likely identify the services and activities that the City provides, but can’t estimate the value of any.
      Many commenters say “cut services” , but nobody identifies which.

  2. withheld says:

    Rush it through… That way, no pesky uninformed citizens to interfere or weigh in with their stupid opinions…They just live here…The gov’t knows best!
    Lord knows what could happen if the voters were able to…..Ugh! Gives me shivers just thinking about it! Perish the thought!

  3. James Engel says:

    Is it still going to require an additional $300K for “administrative costs??!! Cut the City MGRs’ salary & see who squeals the most. Over paid & underworked. A municipal government can’t in no way pay an “industrial level salary w/benefits”. You want the job take it with what the City can afford….

    • Al Nyman says:

      The $300,000 in administrative costs is a joke. I own a company that does $5 million in sales and it takes about 1 employee for billing and collection! The lies put out by government is in the stratosphere.

      • Linda says:

        Totally agree with this and other concerns that have been addressed on this additional tax. This should not be rushed through. Some serious discussions need to be had amongst those taxed and the council.
        When the services provided are not being covered by the taxes collected the taxed should be able to state where cut backs need to occur and whether salaries need to be adjusted (and not upward).

    • Wendy says:

      I agree with you 100%.

  4. Pat Quinn says:

    So if this fee is supposed to prevent layoffs for police, fire, and ems, does that mean we will never have to vote for another police, fire, and ems levy????? Curious mind would like to know for voting purposes.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      The local option levy has become part of the support on which police and fire rely. But it’s not enough. So you’ll be asked to vote for this levy about every four years even while the service fee is in effect.

      • thomas earl cordier says:

        So why wasn’t the levy sufficient and who will be accountable for misleading the voters.
        So much for budgeting–nobody gets it right but all are protected with backfill dollare from fee. It is all crap

        • Sharon Konopa says:

          Now Tom, the voters were not misled. All meetings regarding the levy clearly stated it was not enough funds to sustain the service levels. But we can not increase the levy amount due to compression. That is what prompts the utility fee.
          I remember there was a campaign for a charter amendment for future urban renewal districts around 2014 and they misled the voters!!! Remember that one, Tom! Who will be “accountable” for that? Sorry, I couldn’t resist! :)

  5. City Councilor Marilyn Smith says:

    Please take the time to watch the council meetings live online or review them on YouTube. Start with Budget Committee meetings in early 2019 to learn what the basic budget issues are, what staff and the city manager have done through these last two years to cut spending and look for other sources of revenue, and the full story of the proposed city services utility fee. These meetings are always open to the public, agendas posted in advance, and deliberations toward decisions done in public.

    • Jennifer says:

      Stop voting on things that you know the citizens of Albany don’t want. You need to listen to your constituents. This isn’t all about you! Rushing this through with the emergency clause is just showing how dirty the city is! Leave this to the city to vote for! I keep watching you guys vote blindly because of what city officials tell you. Like the gas station rezoning. He says rezone they can fight later… but they can’t because once the zone is changed what ever fits can go…. look at the banks apartments rezoned now we are screwed! Thanks!

  6. Frank DeLacroix says:

    The one thing this reader finds interesting is that the City Manager knew 2-years ago that this new fee was going to be $9-dollars.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      No he didn’t. He just knew that city finances were on an unsustainable course in the general fund, and so the council started working on alternatives including, eventually, a service fee. The amounts of the fee or tax were not determined until a few weeks ago. You can check the back stories on this site.

  7. Richard Reed says:

    Just another group of people more concerned with raising taxes and fees on their citizens, and less concerned with controlling their spending or costs.

  8. withheld says:

    Many if not most in our great country have had to tighten our belts and figure out how to proceed. Many have lost their businesses and their jobs and some aren’t coming back.
    Meanwhile gov-civil service and the like seem to be of the mind that thinks. No problem we can do the math! (they can’t do math) luckily it’s not math, it’s just arithmetic so don’t flatter yourselves (but I digress)…Anyway their attitude is no problem! It’s easy simple arithmetic. You see when you have less taxpayers – you have to tax those taxpayers at a higher rate in order to maintain your lifestyle…see what I mean. They can solve the simple arithmetic problem…No problem! Unless you really believe that we should all be in this together and that our officials and bureaucrats should also be required to tighten their belts also…But if you try to explain it to them…their gills move in and out for a bit and then they swim away.

  9. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Albany is clearly functionally insolvent.

    Albany city government has made more promises than it can keep. It’s not even close. Look at the 10 year budget projections of an $80M deficit.

    The city doesn’t operate on accrual accounting — where you account for your long term liabilities. It operates on a cash basis, where every year or so the budgetary bottom line demands that taxes/fees be increased. Such nonsense is based on fear, where cuts in essential services are threatened if short term taxes/fees aren’t imposed.

    So what should Albany do now?

    Discard expanding horizontally. This is the path to failure.

    Immediate revenues do not solve the long term problem. Discounting future pain harms not us as much as it harms our kids and grandkids. In a real way.

    Psychologists call this temporal discounting. It is the path to spending yourself into bankruptcy.

    We learned about 8-9 years ago that faced with a leadership vacuum at City Hall, the best solution is for Albany voters to assert themselves though the initiative process.

    It can be done. It just takes leadership, preferably from someone outside of City Hall.

    Sitting on the sidelines and trusting that your councilors and/or Mayor will suddenly adopt a long term view has proven itself unworthy.

    Stupid behavior by the Council, Mayor, and City Manager is so obvious that it shouldn’t even be a question of “when.” We should have made the charter change 8-9 years ago.

    So do it now. But think future.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Thank you, Ray. You made my point.

      You are clearly part of the problem. The DH story illustrates the mindset perfectly. The question is: How much longer will Albany taxpayers buy into this nonsense?

      Once again, representative democracy fails Albany citizens. Like 8-9 years ago, Albany citizens need to pull out their direct democracy scalpel and excise this cancer.

      • William Ayers says:

        Thank you, thank you, thank you Mr Gordon L. Shadle! I mean to say thank you most sincerely unlike Ray’s sinister sarcasm. I truly hope people hear and listen to what you said above…Very well said indeed. Thank you Gordon.

      • Linda says:

        Yes, thank you. This cancer can be treated just need to make sure it is the right treatment.

    • PoC says:

      The article talks about $2.5M shortage and talks about cutting personnel. The city website shows 2020 budget with 77%/ $25M in wages & salaries going to Public Services, Fire & Police (https://albany-sandbox.budget.socrata.com/). What services will be delayed or not provided? Will cutting Fire or Police personnel really save money or will more overtime have to be paid and thus less savings if any than expected. Where is the analysis of the impact on cuts of $2.5M?

  10. Cheryl P says:

    $9.00 may not seem like a lot of money, but it’s a quarter tank of gas that I use to get to work. It’s three gallons of milk I cannot buy. It’s several days of electricity as I light a single lamp with a 45watt bulb or run my fan when it’s 90F or only keep my heat at 68F.

    It’s a sad day when the City Council demands that the citizens tighten their belts, when they aren’t willing to do the same.

  11. Sharon Konopa says:

    This was my long winded comment on Hasso’s article over a city services utility fee from February. Now I know many folks will disagree with me again (including the out of state frequent commenter Mr. Shadle), but this is my perspective over this issue, based on knowing the city budget the past 25 years.

    February 24, 2021 at 10:38 am
    Okay folks I have some thoughts for everyone to ponder on here! It will ruffle some feathers with many folks, but there is another side to this issue!
    It is easy to just state “no fee”, “make cuts”, “live within your means”, “it’s a pandemic”, etc.
    I do hope you express the same opinions when your electricity, natural gas, cell phone, cable and other utilities increase? (They also have the same labor costs). It is always an easy avenue to voice your opinion to your most accessible governing body, as your own city! Do you do the same for the state and federal government? My point, local government is always held back on needed funding because they are the easy venue to express frustrations over the rising cost of living.

    Now I have been through 25 years of our city budgets. Your city government did as you demanded and that was to cut. There have been years of cuts and mostly since the Great Recession. Our service levels never came back to the level they were before 2008 by per capita. Yet we have grown in population and keep on growing. It costs all of us money to serve those new out of state folks who have been moving in!

    Your city portion of your property taxes do not even fully fund police and fire services, so keep that in the back of your mind! It takes other revenue sources, like user fees, to fund all city programs. You state you pay enough in taxes, yet your city taxes do not even pay for other general fund services. (You can argue all you want about CARA, but that ship has sailed)

    Also, adding up my city portion of my property taxes, my water, wastewater, storm water, franchise fees and gas tax I pay monthly is less than my Verizon bill, that does not even include my Comcast bill. Look at your tax bill and utilities, you are welcome to add it up! (I know, some property owners have a higher valued house than I do.) But my point is, do you tell Verizon or Comcast to not raise your rate and cut services? Did you get rid of that cell phone then? Also, city services provide reliable water and wastewater for my house, a network of streets to drive around on, police and fire protection, medics, parks and recreation, pools, libraries, and more—-yet the same costs for all these services than my Verizon bill every month! So please be fair here, as holding back revenues for your city services impacts our own daily household needs and quality of life.

    How about adding up your state and federal taxes each month, I bet you that is way more than a Verizon bill! Do you tell your state and federal government leaders to cut, cut, cut? If not, is that fair to our city?

    The past several years we have cut and cut on staffing. The city council has kicked this can down the road for years in the need for new revenues. The recent council made the choice to cut, cut again and not seek a utility fee to bring in more revenues. That brings us to today!

    You have a choice: Either continue to see more cuts to police, fire, libraries, parks, general fund services or support a utility fee to lessen the reductions on your daily services to your home.

    The upcoming proposed budget includes more reductions in our police and fire departments. This upsets me! If these cuts are made our staffing levels will be where we were in 1996. Folks think about it, 1996! Our population was around a 36,000. We are almost 55,000 now and believe me we have way more challenging issues for our police today, than 25 years ago. We only had a handful of homeless folks and criminals back then to deal with.

    Now what is one major reason city revenues are not keeping up with growth. New development and population have put us more in a hole. More population means more housing and people to serve, yet their increased property taxes do not keep up with the infrastructure and service demands. If you want more growth, then we all get stuck paying the costs for growth, as this is what has taken place for decades.

    So, you can voice your opinion to your local government to have growth pay for itself, to close the gap of your past and current subsidizing of every new house to be built. Make growth pay the full cost to build—from infrastructure, planning to building and expanding the schools. It will not immediately solve the budget deficit the City is faced with today, overtime it will help. Now for me, that is worth a rant to my local government.

    But first, I want a safe city to live in and a utility fee will help with our service levels for a police officer to catch a snoopy thief trying to get into my car. I want high quality medics to respond if I have another medical emergency. I want library books and activities, parks, and playgrounds for my grandsons to enjoy.

    As I have said many times, if you do not like a program or decision over a city issue, then please provide a viable alternative solution! Instead of just cut, so how much then is your city services worth for you? Less or more than your monthly cell phone or cable?

    No easy answer here, but just some thoughts to consider! Thank you for reading, Folks!

    • PoC says:

      As a recent transplant to Albany, I’m shocked by our water bill. ~$50 as a base price. On https://albany-sandbox.budget.socrata.com/, adding up all the water & sewage total ~$85M – 40% of the budget. My neighbors can not tell me why our water costs are so high.

      What happened over the last 20 years of your “guidance”?

      Sharon talks about increases in Comast/Verizon but in reality, they have dramatically improved their performance per cost. 10 year ago we paying for 2 Mbps vs my 200 Mbps today for similar costs.

      • Sharon Konopa says:

        PoC….. our past decade and more have built a new water and wastewater treatment plant for over 70 million, plus Talking Water Gardens. Our rates are less than Lebanon and Sweethome. Yes utilities are expensive everywhere, but ours does include “performance”, plus a beautiful amenity like Talking Water Gardens!

    • William Ayers says:

      You and your CARA boat didn’t sail….it sunk us.

  12. Jeff Senders says:

    It appears more people are upset with the system than they are with the fee.

    This certainly fits in with today’s political and social climate.

    As for myself $9 is two beers at the Pub. If I had to make a decision between paying the increased utilities fee, or the 2 beers, guess what my decision would be?

    But I don’t have a choice.

  13. Bob Woods says:

    You have to hand it to the ultra-right wingers with their demands to “Defund the Police! Defund the Firefighters! Defund Parks & Recreation!”.

    That is EXACTLY what they are calling for.

    • William Ayers says:

      While your at it why don’t you defund the citizens by relieving them of their cash. My wife and I pay aprox. $100.00/month for water and the bill is set to go up by $5.85 plus the $9.00 the city wants to tack on. In Corvallis they pay about half what we pay.
      Call me crazy but $115.00/month for an older couple’s water bill seems high.
      and we don’t even water our lawn. An yo Bob Woods, how is this political? This is not a left/right issue so stop trying to paint everything with that brush. It disingenuous.

    • PoC says:

      Not talking about defunding the Police/Fire. Asking a fair question of how is the money spent & future plans.

      Can someone explain https://albany-sandbox.budget.socrata.com/#!/year/2020/operating/0/department/Public+Works/0/program:

      $32.4M Sewer System Capital Projects
      $ 8.8M Sewer Debt Service
      $ 8.3M Water System Capital Projects
      $ 6.4M Water Waste Admin
      $ 5.2M Water Admin
      $ 3.5M Water Debt Service
      $ 2.9M Wastewater treatment plant
      $ 2.1M Water Distribution
      $ 2.0M Sewer SDC Improvement Fee
      $ etc anther 20+ items below $2M

      Do we continue to pay $85M and more yearly forever?

      • Sharon Konopa says:

        I would recommend you watch the 2019 budget meetings that are posted on the city’s web site and you can scroll to the public works section. That budget review went through each fund. Unfortunately this years budget review did not. Also the 2019/2021 budget book is online. It explains each one of the funds you listed.

  14. Linda says:

    I have always been amazed at the HIGH water bills charged by Albany city. Have lived in various states across this beautiful country and Albany’s rates are the highest, with the exception of Portland (another surprise). That includes many areas not as wet.

  15. Bridget says:

    Lay off notices have already been sent out to Albany Fire Department. Someone needs to be looking at this !!!!!!!!


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