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Oak Harbor Public Works pitches hopeless wish list

The Oak Harbor Public Works department has come out with its 2011-2012 budget wish list, and among the many capital projects proposed are plans for a $1.2 million upgrade of the RV park and the construction of a $250,000 kids’ “splash park.”

But luxury items may be a hard sell, as the city is facing one of its first budget shortfalls in years. In 2011 alone, city officials are expecting at least $426,000 less in revenue than what was received in 2010. And when filling the gap means either laying off city employees or cutting back on select capital projects, the choice is clear for some city council members. Indulgences, such as a splash park, will just have to wait.

“It’s one of those things that would be nice but things are stacked by priority,” City Councilman Rick Almberg said.

Oak Harbor has begun its 2011-2012 budget process, and public works officials presented budget requests Sept. 30 at the first of three budget workshops planned for the city council. Workshops on public safety and the general fund are planned for later this month.

Public works’ presentation was really more of a wish list than a balanced budget proposal, as it did not include the department’s expected revenues. That makes commenting on their requests difficult, said Almberg, but in general his priority will be to fund critical infrastructure and public safety over non-essential projects.

The department has a slew of capital projects planned for the next two years, from completing preliminary plans for a new wastewater treatment plant and building a four million gallon water reservoir to replacing a 42-inch sewer outfall in Oak Harbor bay and wrapping up the SE Pioneer Way Improvement Project. Funding sources for the projects will range from city coffers to state and federal grants.

“This is not the entire list but these are the major ones we have proposed for 2011 and 2012,” said Cathy Rosen, director of public works.

Rosen made several requests for parks, ranging from the hiring of two new seasonal employees to a handful of capital improvement projects. Those planned for Windjammer Park alone total over $500,000, from replacing the smokehouse barbecue and refurbishing the bathrooms to replacing the lagoon bridge and repairing the park’s public kitchen.

While that total also includes the $250,000 splash park, not included is the $1.2 million — $180,000 in design work and $1.02 in actual upgrades — that would go toward the RV park upgrades. That project would result in new electrical and water services, add additional full hook-up spaces, and a new gravel surface.

Other improvements at parks scattered around the city total about $124,500, ranging from new playground equipment and the installation of irrigations systems, to the repainting of the tennis courts at Sumner Park.

Another $889,000 has been identified for other park projects — that includes $750,000 for future park land acquisition — but they will be paid for using non-discretionary funds such as park impact fees. They are revenue sources that can only be used for park related purposes concerning growth.

All the projects mentioned above, however, such as the splash park, would come out of the general fund, according to Oak Harbor Finance Director Doug Merriman. That’s the pot expected to take the biggest hit over the next few years, he said.

As of now, it looks like the revenue drop will be $426,000 in 2011 and stay flat over the course of 2012. But, things will get worse if Initiatives 1100 and 1105 — both would privatize liquor sales in Washington — pass in the November general election.

“If both are successful, we could lose an additional $268,000,” Merriman said.

At least half of the general fund goes toward city employee salaries and benefits. So, when the fund sees a shortfall, decision makers really have just two choices, Merriman said. They can either lay people off or cut back on capital projects.

Like Almberg, City Councilman Jim Palmer said that makes for an easy choice. Luxuries such as a splash park will have to wait for healthier economic times.

“I don’t think that will be a priority,” Palmer said.

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