City still looking at big cuts

"It’s been more than a week since Washington voters turned thumbs up on Initiative 695, but it’s still a hot issue on the Oak Harbor City Council. The city will lose $800,000 in state funding, or about 10 percent of its budget, next year because the initiative decimated the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax — one of the city’s big funding sources.In upcoming weeks, the council will make some tough decisions about where to cut or where to get more money.On Tuesday, the council will take a second look at a city administration-proposed 6 percent utility tax increase, as well as a 0.2 percent business and occupation tax on gross sales in the city.The proposed tax increases were voted down before the election, but Councilmembers Richard Davis and John LaFond asked to bring them back for reconsideration. The likelihood of passage, however, seems dim. Both Rex Hankins and Paul Brewer have said they would stick to campaign promises not to raise taxes.Yet balancing the budget without the cuts might be tough, and could get even tougher. The state Department of Licensing recently announced it won’t penalize people for not renewing tabs due in November or December. City Supervisor E.T. Silvers said he worries that a large number of people won’t renew — though they’ll risk being ticketed by police — and the state will lose the last two months of Motor Vehicle Excise Tax funding as well.If the state doesn’t get the money, it can’t pass it on to Oak Harbor, which is scheduled to get its last piece of the funding in the first quarter of the year 2000.Silvers said that could cut another $100,000 or more from the city’s 2000 budget, bringing the deficit to $900,000.This week, Silvers said he developed a tentative budget with a list of nearly $800,000 in cuts, but without losing any employees. “Our top priority is to balance the budget without laying off anyone,” he said. His list of tentative cuts could, however, mean the loss of about 38 part-time summer employees.According to Silvers, the tentative cuts include all overtime and training for city employees, all travel, the adult day care program, the city’s funding for Meals on Wheels, the entire summer recreation program at City Beach Park, funding for Little Leagues, maintenance for the Fort Nugent Park and a couple of new firefighter positions.Since the police department is the city’s biggest general fund department, it will have to bear nearly $400,000 worth of cuts. Chief Tony Barge said he will try not to cut any employees, but it might be difficult since most of the budget is for salaries.“I need the people to tell me what services they want from the police department,” he said, “but unfortunately, nobody is talking.”While volunteers have been proposed as the solutions, Silvers said non-employees might not be able to do things like maintaining city parks. “There are issues of insurance and liability,” he said.The solution, Hankins said, is to make the cuts now to balance the budget. Since the second part of the initiative requires a vote of the people for tax increases, Hankins said they can vote to raise their own taxes next year if they miss the services and want them back."

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