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Council OKs less drastic alternative for cutbacks.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

COBURG - The city will keep its `24/7'" police service - and its motorcycle patrols on Interstate 5 - and move more slowly toward repaying reserves it tapped to cover overspending, the City Council decided Tuesday night.

Acting City Administrator Jamon Kent last week had urged the council to cut spending by $400,000 between now and June 30 in an attempt to repay borrowed reserves and close a spending gap estimated at nearly $800,000.

But this week, he came to the council with a less drastic recommendation: Take two or possibly three years to replenish the reserves, and cut spending by just $260,000.

Under that plan, unanimously adopted by the council, the city will eliminate just two of its eight budgeted police positions, rather than the three contemplated last week.

The city will axe the department's top post, vacated when former Chief Mike Hudson resigned last week, along with a lieutenant position vacated Tuesday when Grover Hubbard resigned to pursue a position training Iraqi police officers. But it will keep a canine unit position that had also been on the chopping block last week.

Kent said he recommended maintaining a six-officer force because that is the minimum number required to continue round-the-clock patrols, which the council considered a priority. Area business owners have also expressed strong interest in contributing money to maintain the canine unit, used mainly to patrol Coburg's industrial district, Councilor Bill Judd noted.

Other job cuts approved Tuesday include a supervisor and a half-time clerk in the public works department; a half-time clerk and a one-quarter time probation officer in the city court; and a three-quarter time director position in the planning department. The council also endorsed reducing budgeted materials and supplies; eliminating a 6 percent PERS contribution on each employees' salary; and requiring employees to begin paying a $50 monthly premium on their health insurance.

Before outlining details of his recommendation, Kent thanked city employees for their willingness to take what essentially amounted to a 6 percent pay cut to help the city move toward a balanced budget.

"They stepped up to the plate," he told the council.

Kent also presented the city with its first good fiscal news in a long time: The city's dedicated urban renewal funds appear adequate to cover its sewer debt service payments. State officials are willing to work with the city to rectify its violation of a Department of Environmental Quality sewer debt reserves requirement.

Also, Coburg will receive nearly $250,000 in grants and funds he had not previously counted on because he could not find documentation in city financial records.

"Those uncertain funds have now been confirmed," he said, noting that they would close the funding gap to $550,000.

After the spending cuts approved by the council Tuesday night, that should close the shortfall to $290,000 shortfall by the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Coburg should be able to whittle that deficit to zero by June of 2007, Kent said.

In the meantime, it can live with the deficit by taking out a Tax Anticipation Note "advance" on its tax revenues each year and repaying its water reserve fund over two more years.

Council members expressed relief at being able to take a more gradual approach.

"I think it's more realistic," Michelle Sunia said.

Only one member of the public spoke at the meeting. Resident Karen Coury questioned whether the city of 1,000 could afford six police officers - still the largest per-capita police department in the state, even after cutting two positions.

Consultant Jim Johnson, who presented the council with options for restructuring City Hall in a work session before the meeting, had noted that the next two largest Oregon police departments have just four officers per thousand residents.

Johnson noted, however, that Coburg is unique in having an industrial district that employs more than three times the city's population. He urged the city to consider adopting a business license tax, graduated per number of employees, to help city taxpayers cover police service costs.

Kent added that the city may also consider a tax sure to stir new resentment among opponents of the city's controversial practice of citing I-5 speeders into its municipal court: a public service tax on all citations.
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Title Annotation:Government; Coburg will slash spending by $260,000 and maintain a six-person police force
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 15, 2004
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