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Coburg police cuts may be the ticket, consultants say.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (RAN 3/15/05): A story on Page C1 Sunday incorrectly attributed information to Coburg Mayor Judy Volta. It was acting City Finance Director Mitzi Colbath who said a computerized city accounting system that "didn't work" may have been a factor in Coburg's budget deficit.

COBURG - The city has not hit bottom yet but may have to eliminate its 24/7 police service - including one of its two controversial Interstate 5 motorcycle patrol positions - before June 30 to avoid a deficit.

That was the news delivered to the City Council at a Saturday work session with Lane Council of Governments consultants under contract to help the city sort out a budget shortfall of more than $600,000. The reported amount of the shortfall - apparently driven by several years of overspending - has fluctuated as the consultants and auditors have tried to untangle city financial records.

On Saturday, Mayor Judy Volta said a factor in the run-up of red ink may have been a computerized city accounting system that "didn't work."

Acting City Administrator Jamon Kent and acting city Financial Officer Mitzi Colbath told the panel that despite December cuts in staffing and employee benefits, Coburg will end the fiscal year with a deficit of more than $400,000 unless spending cuts are made.

Council members took no action on the recommendations Saturday. Colbath emphasized that the data presented were preliminary, and that the numbers could change as she fine-tunes her report for the regular City Council meeting Tuesday night.

During Saturday's session, it was clear that even the panel's most ardent backer of round-the-clock police coverage, Councilor Bill Judd, recognized that it may be unaffordable. Even after the two top positions were eliminated in December, Coburg's six-officer police department remains 50 percent larger per capita than the next largest Oregon police department. Kent and Colbath recommend cutting two or three positions this spring.

Judd at first argued for cutting just one position, since cutting two would mean eliminating one of two motorcycle traffic officers hired to aggressively patrol Interstate 5.

"I don't think we can afford to get rid of two," Judd said. "The revenue that that one police officer can bring in - we don't want to talk about where it's going to come from, but it's income, it's resources, which we need."

The city has drawn criticism for aggressive patrols on I-5 that have reaped as much as $775,000 annually in ticket revenue - nearly half the city's approved $1.7 million 2004-05 operating budget.

After discussion of the city's financial status, Judd eventually conceded that the city may have to cut two or more police positions.

"I think the town wants and expects 24-hour coverage," he said. "But I also know that sometimes you can't afford what you want."

Other cuts to be considered Tuesday are reductions in the city's court staff, elimination of its public works director position, and closing city hall one day a week through the end of the year resulting in a 20 percent pay cut for employees.

The council also will consider ways to increase city revenue, including a business license tax and possible placement of a local option levy on the May ballot.

A long-awaited "forensic audit" - an investigative probe of the city's books, budgets and other records - has been completed by Eisler & Co. but will not be on the agenda, Colbath said. It first goes to the city attorney for review, and is scheduled for public presentation to the City Council on April 5.
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Title Annotation:Government; Recommendations for the city to avoid a deficit are shared at a work session
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 13, 2005
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