Budget discussions can make your eyes glaze over, as they did mine as I was trying to follow the city of Albany’s budget committee on Zoom Thursday night. But I came away with a few key points that may affect people living in town.
For instance, the committee voted to recommend that the council find new revenue to support city services. This means a services utility fee or tax — probably $9 per household per month — that the council will almost certainly adopt. Of the council members on the budget panel, only Matilda Novak pushed back on this idea, saying there was no way she could support it unless it’s put to a vote of the people.
The committee approved the proposed biennial budget for 2021-23 and sent it to the council. Among the details in its 592 pages:
— At $348 million, the plan is down 2 percent from the current biennium.
— City employees number 404 FTEs (full-time equivalents) in the first year and 402 in the second, down 14 from the current staffing level.
— The police lose two positions the first year, another two the following year, to end up with 89 FTEs.
— The fire department loses 11 positions this year, including six firefighters/EMTs, and ends up with just under 79 FTEs. Councilman Dick Olsen worried that this would close fire stations in North Albany and east of I-5. The fire chief said stations would not be closed but be staffed by fewer people, which means longer response times.
— In parks and recreation, the FTE number goes from almost 31 now to about 28. In the libraries, there’s a staffing drop from 21 to 19.
— The budget calls for levying $67.5 million in city property taxes over two years, up about 3 percent. Other revenue supports the bulk of the overall budget.
If there’s additional revenue, some of the reductions in the plan would not be carried out. In the discussion about that, the question of salaries and benefits came up. The budget says citywide, average personnel costs break down this way: Wages 55 percent, PERS retirement costs 19 percent, employee health insurance 18 percent, and other benefits 8 percent.
Police and fire services together cost about $72 million over the two budget years. The committee was told that under state law, the city has little control over personnel costs in those departments. The law bars police and fire personnel from striking if there’s an impasse in negotiations, but in return it gives arbitrators the power to set contract terms based on the unions’ last offer.
You can listen to the budget committee session on the city’s website. It takes two hours, not the few minutes you spent here. (hh)