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Coburg budget ignores proposed cap.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

COBURG - Betting that state legislators will swerve rather than pass a bill capping the city's traffic ticket income, the Coburg City Council drove ahead Tuesday night with a 2005-06 budget that assumes nearly $360,000 in revenue from traffic citations.

With little discussion, the council unanimously adopted the $1.2 million budget approved by the city's budget committee May 14, despite the so-called Coburg Law passing out of a Senate committee Monday with bipartisan support. The budget will leave Coburg with the largest per capita police force in the state.

The fine-limiting bill was introduced by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, in response to the city's history of generating up to half of its operating budget by aggressively ticketing motorists as they pass through on Interstate 5.

The bill has to pass both the full Senate and the full House to become law. It would cap Coburg's annual revenue from traffic fines at 10 percent of its general operating budget - about $120,000 next year.

City finance Director David Landrum said he considered preparing some last-minute budget alternatives with program cuts to offset the potential loss of $240,000 in projected 2005-06 ticket revenue, should the law pass.

`I thought about putting together a big `What if?' scenario,' said Landrum, hired this spring as the city emerged from a year-long fiscal crisis. "But I decided not to until things are a little more sure."

If the bill becomes law, the city will have to reconvene its budget committee to adopt a supplemental budget reflecting the lost revenue.

City officials have pleaded with legislators not to impose the limit, noting that the city is already moving away from a reliance on traffic ticket revenues that have exceeded $750,000 in recent years.

Coburg leaders have also said they cannot afford to lose the revenue now, amid a multiyear plan to repay loans and rebuild reserves tapped after discovering a $600,000 shortfall in the 2004-05 budget.

Mayor Judy Volta alluded to those woes Tuesday night when she assured community members attending the council meeting that she had carefully checked each figure in the budget to ensure they were the same ones approved during the budget-making process. "Last year there were different budgets presented to us than what ended up on paper," she said.

Coburg resident Ray Kuhl pressed the council not to give up on efforts to determine who created that discrepancy.

"I'm not here to beat a dead horse, but I get the impression that the misappropriation of money ... it's getting swept under the carpet," he said. "We'd still like to know what happened, where it went and who's going to be held responsible."

The city conducted a special audit intended to determine how the shortfall occurred. It pinpointed accounting and math errors, but turned up no evidence that anyone appropriated funds for personal gain.

In a May 26 letter, Lane County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Mortimore said his office reviewed a summary of the auditors' findings and agreed there was no basis for criminal prosecution.
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Title Annotation:Government; The City Council passed a spending plan that includes anticipated revenue from traffic tickets
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 29, 2005
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