Belts tightened as final budget nears

The state of the city’s budget is frustrating, but near-balanced, said Doug Merriman, the director of city finance.

“All we have to do now is make sure we have our staff numbers right and that we dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s,” he said.

The city’s second budget meeting, held Monday at the Oak Harbor Fire station, addressed the enterprise and utility budgets and stayed within the three-hour time limit, unlike the last session that ran for five hours.

Mayor Jim Slowik briefly told council about the mayors’ summit in Seattle he and Merriman attended last week.

“Everybody has the same problems. But where do we land? In the upper half. We have a less severe budget issue,” he said, comparing Oak Harbor to the other medium-sized cities that attended the summit, and then turned the assembly’s attention to the city budget meeting.

Mike McIntyre, Senior Services director, reported that the program will operate below the 2008 budget, but that vital services such as Adult Day Care will remain. Last month, there was worry over whether or not the center could maintain the popular service.

“We have endeavored like most other departments that follow the mayor’s lead,” McIntyre said.

The center, which provides services to Island County residents, looked for ways to reduce expenses instead of cutting programs, he said.

“We’re working very hard to achieve and maintain services,” he said.

Looking to the future, McIntyre is putting money aside to replace the Senior Center’s aging ventilation system and saving for technology upgrades. Currently, the program has no reserves for such maintenance and upgrades.

“That has hurt my budget more than anything else,” he said of the program’s lack of savings. “We’ve worked our finger to the bone on this.”

Although times are tough, the marina is planning to set aside $300,000 each year for capital improvements including dredging, electrical upgrades and dock work. The savings plan is feasible as the marina no longer owes money on the 30-year bond for its original construction.

“Through good management, there is no debt for the marina’s construction,” said Mack Funk, harbormaster. “So we’re saving $300,000 a year at the minimum.”

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Paggao congratulated Funk for his foresight.

“Over the last 30, 40 years there has been no savings, so it’s good to hear that we’re saving,” he said.

The marina is operating on a smaller staff than is authorized, said Funk, but the three current employees, with the help of seasonal and part-time workers, have absorbed the extra duties.

Funk said the marina does not plan to fill the vacant position.

One of the bigger frustrations at the meeting was lack of funding for street repairs, also called overlay.

“There is no overlay funding for the next two years,” Merriman said. “It’s very frustrating because we’d like to maintain what we have.”

But the price of asphalt, an oil-based product, has soared, “up 30 or 40 percent,” he said, while the motor vehicle fuel tax is going down, decreasing the city’s stream of revenue from the gas tax.

“For most cities, the general fund subsidizes the street fund,” Merriman said.

While Oak Harbor allocates about $40,000 to the fund, most cities pay for half of the street budget, he said, adding that Oak Harbor’s street budget is about $1.3 million.

“There’s no other revenue sources to make up the difference.”

The aging storm sewer system is also a major concern, but with the current revenue shortage, Merriman said, construction probably won’t begin until 2010 or2011. On a brighter note, engineering and design costs have been worked into the current budget.

After many meetings and countless hours of reviewing the budget, the process is nearly over.

“It’s pretty well balanced now,” Merriman said.

The budget will be presented to the City Council on Nov. 5, and the final budget will go up for approval at a public meeting scheduled for Nov. 18.

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