Town Hall Gives Public Chance to Offer Input on Hermiston’s Budget

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A couple dozen people showed up at Monday's town hall meeting to discuss Hermiston's budget gap and possible solutions. (Photo by Michael Kane)

For the past six months, the Hermiston City Council has been going over each departmental budget to find a way to close a $902,000 budget gap.

On Monday, the public got a chance to offer its input on the shortfall during a town hall meeting held prior to the regularly-scheduled council meeting.

City Manager Byron Smith said the city’s revenues have not kept pace with the rate of inflation over the past few years, forcing the council to look at both budget cuts and new sources of revenue.

On top of the $902,000 gap in the budget, the city is hoping to find another $370,000 to hire three new police officers.

Smith said public outreach efforts indicate varied levels of satisfaction for the current level of city services and one survey shows a willingness on the public’s part to pay for more police officers.

Smith said the council has recommended cutting the Street Department by $340,000 and another $150,000 to the Materials/Services budget.

For new revenue sources, the council recommends an increase in planning and zoning fees which is estimated to generate $80,000 in new revenue, as well as an increase in the Transient Room Tax by 1 percent ($100,000 in new revenue). Other recommendations include implementing a business license fee of $250 annually ($100,000 in new revenue), and a public safety fee of $5 per month per account to support the police department. The city has also been approved for a $125,000 COPS grant.

Smith said if those recommendations take place, the budget will have a surplus of $170,774. Other possible sources of revenue include a local fuel tax, a marijuana tax, local option property tax levies, and a payroll tax.

Mayor Dave Drotzmann said Hermiston’s budget challenges are not unique and that cities across the state are facing the same issues with inflation outpacing revenue growth.

“This town hall is your chance to give feedback on what you want your city to look like and what services you feel like we can do without or which services you feel like we can’t live without and how would you like to pay for those,” Drotzmann said. “We want to hear from you.”

During the public comment portion of the town hall, Troy White said he supported a suggestion made by Councilor Roy Barron at the previous council meeting that Hermiston should consider allowing marijuana sales inside the city limits and receive the tax revenue from those sales.

“We need more businesses in town,” he said, adding that he was opposed to a local sales tax.

Brian Misner and Josh Roberts, both of whom serve on the city’s budget committee, said someone has to be held accountable for the budget shortfall.

“There were no warning signs that we were nearing a cliff and now run off it,” Misner said. “You nine elected officials need to ask the tough questions. There’s got to be some sort of accountability here.”

Roberts said he doesn’t want to see this happen again down the road.

“We’re taking the steps necessary now, but how do we know it’s not going to happen again in the future?”

Another budget committee member, Dave Hanson, said he supports a public safety fee, but suggested it should be double the suggested $5 fee in order to hire even more officers.

“We should be looking to hire six new officers,” he said. “That’s what we really need to cut down on the drive-by shootings on 11th Street,” he said.

Jose Garcia said the city is missing out on potential revenue at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center. He said the center could be filled every night with entertainment and events.

“We’re losing a lot of business to our neighbors in the Tri-Cities,” Garcia said.

Kari Christiansen, a small business owner in Hermiston, said the city could save a lot of money by abandoning the $2.8 million Gettman Road project.

“Let’s take care of the things in our city that we really need to take care of,” she said.

Councilor David McCarthy said warnings about the city’s budgets were made throughout past council meetings and encouraged the public to attend more meetings in person or watch them on YouTube.

Councilor Maria Durón encouraged citizens to submit written comments before January.

“Call city hall if you have questions,” she said. “We are not taking this lightly.”

Drotzmann thanked the councilors and city staff for the work they have put in on the budget over the past several months.

“They put themselves up for public criticism,” he said. “We have a very talented staff with longevity. You don’t see that very often in governance. I’m proud of hard work they do every day. Ultimately, it’s up to us as citizens to decide the level of services that we want in our community and what we’re willing to pay for those.”

The public has until Dec. 8 to fill out a survey on the city’s budget. The council won’t make any decisions until next year.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Someone needs to be held accountable for this don’t spend money when you don’t have the resources to get it back if your spending more then getting in return then there is an issue all appointed city members need to figure out what’s the malfunction and were they dropped the ball don’t point fingers until you hold yourself accountable for your misconduct on the budget putting your hand in the cookie jar way to much
    City board members need to be held accountable no matter what . Fingers should be pointing at you

  2. Mismanagement of public funds is Not a reason to continue to raise property taxes, plus tax our utilities, then talk about a city sales tax or adding any more fees or taxes. Accountability for Everyone that is in the Government of the City of Hermiston is a Must. What happened to living within our means and STOP the overspending? Maybe its time to Clean house and let the heads roll? For sure its time to Stop the overspending?!!

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