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Police, fire positions unfilled in city budget

Despite the tough economic times, officials with the city of Oak Harbor don’t plan to layoff any employees next year.

Nevertheless, seven unfilled positions were cut from the budget. No one will be hired to fill one position in finance, one parks position, two positions in the fire department and two positions in the police department, as well as a intern position in the planning department.

“Back in spring we could see it coming and we put on the brakes,” Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik said about the hiring process.

The Oak Harbor City Council unanimously approved the 2009-2010 biennial budget Nov. 18, following a public hearing.

Finance Director Merriman said the positions remain authorized so the city can fill them when and if there is a need and adequate resources to do so.

“I’m pretty pleased that we’re continuing our operations,” he said, noting that there were no major cuts in existing services.

The 2009 general fund budget, which pays for police, fire and City Hall departments, rose by just .17 percent; the 2010 budget continues a modest increase of 2.3 percent from the 2008 budget.

Slowik said the city has a policy to maintain a 15 percent general fund reserve, but it’s accumulated to 21 percent. Slowik said the extra money will likely be used to balance the budget in 2010.

Merriman also said the budget uses a new strategy for large capital projects.

Instead of projecting how much a future project may cost, the city will wait for the completion of engineer and design studies before working large endeavors into the budget.

The budgeting process, nearly a year-long endeavor, will carry Oak Harbor’s budget for the next two years.

The heavy lifting is over, but small changes can still be made after the new budget goes into effect.

The fire department is already requesting a reorganization, which is above their allotment in the newly approved biennial budget.

These requests are not unusual following the budget’s approval, or during any other time of year, said Slowik, referring to the budget as a “guideline.”

There will likely be as many changes up as there are changes down, he said, adding that the council may need to adjust the budget some time in the mid to latter part of 2009.

“We’ll wait to see if we need a budget adjustment. Other things may drop,” Slowik said of the need to compensate for new requests, but he added that he isn’t expecting any big budgetary surprises.

There was one voice of dissent during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Resident Fred Henninger objected to the pier projects and urged the council to “take advantage of this time to put this project to bed.”

Henninger said that he opposed the project because of the additional maintenance and upkeep it will require.

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