Proposed budget focuses on priorities

Oak Harbor officials recently laid out two years of spending plans.

Oak Harbor officials recently laid out two years of spending plans, which includes large road projects, a downtown revitalization study, the purchase of a marina boat yard and new places to play pickleball.

City Administrator Blaine Oborn presented the proposed budget highlights for the years 2023 and 2024 at a workshop Wednesday, saying that he thought the budget incorporated the council’s 32 goals, specifically economic development, downtown revitalization and utility infrastructure.

The proposed budget for the next two years is $250.9 million, compared to the 2021-22 budget of $242.1 million – an $8.8 million dollar increase. In a statement, Mayor Robert Severns said the increase was due to the inclusion of project priorities.

City council’s “No. 1 goal” is addressed by budgeting for a study of Pioneer Way for revitalization and reuse, a study of the downtown and marina and funding for a term-limited economic development coordinator. Grant funding is expected to cover over 95% of these costs.

Over $1 million is included for Windjammer Park improvements and another $475,000 for other park expansions, such as pickleball courts, little league field renovations and the first phase of the Harbor Heights sports complex.

There is $10 million of funding for replacement and updates to the city’s utility infrastructure, half of which is grant funded.

Personnel costs comprise 65% of the general fund budget and Severns included a 2% and 3% cost of living increase for 2023 and 2024, as well as comprehensive examination of employee classifications and compensation. There will be no significant increase in staffing.

The budget contains almost $12 million of grant funds for projects such as Northeast 7th Avenue, Northwest Heller Street overlay, sewer inflow and infiltration repair, aging water main replacement and marina boat yard acquisition.

According to the mayor’s statement, the city grew its unencumbered fund balance in the city’s general fund over the last two years. The year 2021 ended with $2.7 million in the fund balance as opposed to the expected amount of $500,000.

“This was due in part to better than projected sales tax revenues and various expenditures coming in under budget attributed to the ongoing effects of the pandemic,” Severns said, adding that this trend is projected to continue in 2022 with an addition of $600,000.

Severns recommended reducing the level of roadway improvements funded by state motor vehicle fuel tax revenues since they have stagnated or decreased since a peak in 2007. During the workshop, Councilmembers Shane Hoffmire and Jim Woessner raised concerns about reducing street maintenance. Finance Director David Goldman explained that the city would have to find money for roads elsewhere through things like grants and real estate excise taxes.

“I would hope that we’d make sure at least a half million is going into that,” Hoffmire said of road improvements.

Severns encouraged the public to review the preliminary budget on the city’s website. Budget public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. on Nov. 15 and at 3 p.m. on Nov. 30.