Addressing Bend's rapid, projected growth, City Councilors finalized the proposed $695 million biennium budget on June 21, focusing heavily on the transport, public safety and infrastructure sectors. Beefing up core services was at the forefront, with Mayor Casey Roats underlining "incorporating the demands growth puts on the community and maintaining livability and character of our existing city." Roats went on to say that the city is doing well in its effort to combat some of its recent challenges, including the maintenance of roads.
Councilors allocated $5.2 million over two years for street preservation — including fixing the potholes dreaded by so many Bend drivers. Streets are getting a 50 percent increase, according to City of Bend Finance Manager Sharon Wojda. Since Bend's revenue streams are expected to remain the same, City staff reworked existing funds, cut infrastructure projects and reallocated a portion of the transient room tax back to the City's general fund instead of toward tourism promotion, Wodja says. In addition, they cut reserves from 20 percent to approximately 17 percent across certain sectors, according to Mayor Roats.
In his State of the City address on June 14, Roats also spoke about the various budget challenges Bend faces without an increase in revenue streams and "...trying to accommodate the growth, because it's coming and no one one can stop it."
City Manager Eric King highlighted the need to stabilize spending as Bend faces increasing infrastructure challenges and needs to build roads, sidewalks, sewer and water lines—all while ensuring police officers and firefighters protect the influx of people.
"Bend is routinely on the top 10 list of cities for places to retire, start a business or enjoy a craft brew," King wrote, "This budget reflects a 5.5 percent increase for the first fiscal year and a 4.6 percent increase for the second, which accounts for the city's core revenues (taxes, licenses, permits, rates and fees)." King also mentioned a need to increase staffing by 2.7 percent.
With wages slowly growing — the state-mandated minimum wage is increasing to $10.25 in Deschutes County on July 1 — but with rents and housing prices dramatically spiking, the City also chose to focus a portion of the budget on evaluating whether the local economy is sustainable at its current pace. King called this a "gut check" for Bendites and City Councilors, noting that Bend is "financially challenged by a uniquely low tax rate that was imposed by the state of Oregon in the 1990s."
As City of Bend Development Services Director Russell Grayson noted at the State of the City address, "There is no magic bucket of money sitting anywhere for us to just dip into," but he also acknowledged that increased land use permits and System Development Charges are part of the key to helping prioritizing infrastructure—especially transportation initiatives. In addition, the City will spend nearly $60 million on sewer projects, with the council discussing longer-term plans for relieving traffic congestion.
Seven city councilors and seven volunteers made up the budget committee, which began its work this past fall. The committee had a number of challenges, including "balancing the many needs of the community against the limited amount of money," said Chair Peter Werner. "Some of the challenges are the tax rate our municipality is in," he said, "and the way we can spend the money, some of which is restricted and can only be spent in certain departments."
With Bend's population expected to increase by 30 percent in the next 10 years, City Manager King noted that the City will have to come up with some creative and innovative ways to tackle some of its most important budgetary issues.
Finance Manager Wojda called it a "lean budget" and was pleased that on the last day of deliberations, the committee was unanimous in its decision to approve it. But without a new revenue stream, the City will have to defer certain equipment purchases, facility improvements and cut down on reserves, Wojda laments.
"Although we haven't cured the street problem on the long term basis," said Mayor Roats, "We're making some really good strides."
And as Budget Committee Chair Werner noted, the "overarching theme is how do we get to a sustainable point where the streets are getting enough money with the limited amount we have."