City Predicts Millions in Budget Shortfalls | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

City Predicts Millions in Budget Shortfalls

With hotels empty for months and no one to ticket for speeding, the City gets creative on cuts and leaves most of its reserves in the bank

Sharon Wojda, the City of Bend chief financial officer, told the City Council Wednesday night that the city might come up $14.5 million short at the end of its budget cycle in July 2021. She recommended the city aim to cut $20.5. Before the coronavirus hit, the city planned to spend approximately $128 million over two fiscal years ending next summer. All in all, Wojda said the city could use around $400,000 in its general fund reserves out of $9.7 million it has available.

click to enlarge City Predicts Millions in Budget Shortfalls
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The city aims to cut around $20 million from the current two-year budget of $128 million due to the economic recession.

“Unlike some segments of the economy that were immediately impacted, the City has time to plan,” said City Manager Eric King said in a statement. “We are working to avoid layoffs as long as possible to continue providing core public services with the resources we have.”

In response to local and national police brutality protests, King announced the City will dip into its police department reserves to buy body cameras for Bend’s police officers. This was already part of a long-term plan but now it’s a priority. The Source will report in more detail about this new development later this week.

In an effort to avoid mass layoffs of city employees, the city instructed all departments to propose 5-10% cuts to their budgets. This could mean the city simply doesn’t rehire when employees retire or quit, eliminating an estimated 37 positions overall. It also could mean a reduction in insurance plans and retirement accounts for those who work for the city. Some departments won’t buy new vehicles this year and will put these purchases off until after the current biennium budget ends. As more city employees work from home, less money is needed to rent office space downtown.

We are working to avoid layoffs as long as possible to continue providing core public services with the resources we have. - City Manager Eric King

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Tourism—often a hot topic of debate on local social media channels—brings millions to the city government every year to pay for roads, cops and other expenses. Last fiscal year (July 2018 – June 2019), the 10.4% transient room tax collections topped $10 million of which about two-thirds went into the city’s general fund. This time around, the city is looking at losing between $5 - $11 million from tourism taxes.

Property tax collections will come up short as well. In times of economic hardship, some homeowners just stop paying the money they owe. Wojda used average losses on property taxes during the Great Recession to estimate a shortfall of $1.3 million as a result of the coronavirus-induced recession. There’s a chance that the unemployment compensation ($600/week on top of normal benefits) from the CARES Act may be enough to help people who live here float their tax obligation when it comes due in the fall.

Finally, less traffic on local roads and highways means less opportunities for the Bend Police Department to write tickets and collect fines from violations. The same goes for parking tickets around the city. A state report from the Oregon Department of Transportation showed that at the height of Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-home order, weekend traffic was down nearly 60% statewide and weekday traffic was down 42%. For the City of Bend, this means losses of a projected $1.2 million in fines. Less cars on the road also means less trips to the gas station: Wojda estimated a $650,000 shortfall from lost highway gas taxes.

Wodja reiterated throughout her presentation to City Council that these are just projections and the city may receive funds from the federal government. Already the CARES Act and other programs has helped the city pay for more expenses related to COVID-19.

City Manager Eric King made a short presentation to the City Council about how the budget cuts will affect the City’s overall goals.

“A silver lining in some of this is we’re really seeing huge opportunities to advance efficiencies,” King said. “We’re going to start in-person City Council meetings most likely in July, but we’ll continue to offer hybrid approaches.”

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