Cohen softens city cutbacks

"Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen rescued the Citizens On Patrol program and part of the summer recreation program in the latest year 2000 budget draft.Even though it's still not balanced.Cohen and Finance Director Doug Merriman, acting as the interim city supervisor, revealed the latest budget proposal to the City Council during a workshop Tuesday night.Cohen asked the council members for direction in balancing the budget this year and in future years. About $45,000 still needs to be cut from the $8.5 million budget this year, but about $190,000 in cuts will need to be found in the year 2001 budget.Merriman said the city recently received $143,000 from the state in 1999 fourth quarter Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, which will be the last of the MVET money.In addition, Merriman said the city has asked the Internal Revenue Service for a social security tax break under section 106. He said the city is one of the first municipalities to request the break under the new section. If the city qualifies, it could save $75,000 a year.Cohen's new draft replaces some funding that was cut from proposed budgets under former Mayor Steve Dernbach and former City Supervisor E.T. Silvers. She returned $10,000 for the Citizens on Patrol - a police program for residents who help patrol the city - and $24,500 for the park and recreation program.Merriman said the recreation funding will pay for summertime lifeguards at the lagoon in City Beach Park. There are liability issues involved, he said.Although the City Council passed a biennial budget for 1999 and 2000, a working budget for the year hasn't been finalized. The City Council passed a 7 percent utility tax, which will raise $367,000 a year to help offset the lost revenues.The council members had trouble finding budget cut priorities at the workshop Tuesday. Only Councilman John LaFond identified specifics, suggesting that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and night shift firefighters should be cut first.Cohen and council members are planning a retreat Feb. 24 and 25 to discuss the budget and other priorities for the city.Merriman urged council members not to wait until the end of the year to make decisions about next year's budget and the $190,000 in cuts that will have to be identified."

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