Hermiston to Give Citizens Input on How to Close Budget Gap

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The Hermiston City Council discusses options for closing a $900,000 budget shortfall during a work session Monday night. (Screenshot)

The citizens of Hermiston will have their say on the city’s budget during a town hall meeting on Nov. 27.

During a work session Monday night, the Hermiston City Council was presented with various options to balance the city’s budget including some cuts as well as potential new revenue sources. The city currently has a budget gap of around $900,000.

The city is also looking for ways to generate enough new revenue to pay for three new police officers.

Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith outlined several options he favors to balance the city’s budget. Those include:

  • Increasing Planning Department fees for an estimated $80,000 in new revenue
  • 1 percent increase in Transient Room Tax ($100,000 in new revenue)
  • Business license fee averaging $250 per business ($100,000)
  • Public safety fee of $5 per month ($360,000)
  • $150,000 cut to city’s Materials/Services budget

If those options were implemented, Smith estimated revenue of $16,997,911 with expenses of $16,827,137 for a budget surplus of $170,774.

Smith said Planning Department fees haven’t been increased in more than 20 years. He also said charging residents a public safety fee is something many cities across the state already do.

“It’s an investment in public safety,” he said.

Smith also offered the council other options to close the budget gap including a marijuana sales tax. That would require a vote by the citizens to allow marijuana sales inside city limits.

Other options include a local gasoline tax, a targeted sales tax, and francise fees on water and sewer.

Councilor Roy Barron said the city should at least consider a marijuana sales tax. “The people using it are going to continue to use it,” he said. “It would be good to capitalize on some of that.” Barron also said he was in support of Smith’s five proposed options.

“Each revenue source I think is well thought out,” he said. “The TRT tax would really affect our visitors and not our residents. I know the public safety fee would have an effect on all our citizens. But this is something that is an absolute priority. It’s something we need to do to ensure we have public safety in our community.”

Barron also like the idea of a business license fee to give the city an accounting of everyone doing business inside the city.

“I’m really proud of the administration’s work and I think we should move forward with all of these,” he said.

Councilor Nancy Peterson initially opposed the idea of business license but has since reconsidered.

“We have a lot of small businesses with one or two employees, and we want to protect those,” Peterson said. “But it would be good to be able to keep track of the businesses operating in town.”

Councilor Jackie Myers said the city needs to implement a business license program, and a public safety fee “has to happen.”

Councilor Maria Duron said no one likes to pay more for services, but it cannot be avoided.

“The costs for everything goes up,” she said. “We see that in the grocery store and with gasoline. We need to be able to have the funds to staff the programs the city currently offers.”

Council President Doug Primmer told Smith he wasn’t a fan of charging residents any additional fees, but the current budget shortfall probably means it’s necessary to do so.

“I do appreciate that you’ve brought forward some options for us,” he said. “Some are definitely less palatable than others. I’ve always been a proponent of us having a business license fee.  We need to update Planning Department fees, as well.”

Primmer said he could also probably support a public safety fee, but he wanted to hear the public’s input before making any final decisions.

Smith proposed having a final discussion on the budget in January following the town hall budget meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am ok with everything except the $5/mo Public Safety fee. For a service most of us may or may not ever use, why should we pay extra? We already pay some of that as taxes.

  2. Public safety is something we ALL use. You may not even know how much you benefit from it until it’s not there and you start to notice your town succumbing to crime. HPD is desperate to hire more officers to keep this town safe from the recent upswing in shootings. If you or a loved one ever does need emergency assistance, you’ll be glad you paid that $5.

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