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New Year, New Problems: City Council tackles budget and ethics laws

In a unanimous vote last week, the City Council authorized adjustments that cut back on funding for fire and police service, as well as road


In a unanimous vote last week, the City Council authorized adjustments that cut back on funding for fire and police service, as well as road maintenance, while backfilling a shortfall in planning revenues that will temporarily stave off additional layoffs. The council has previously discussed how the slumping housing market is the reason behind a downturn in revenue from the city's engineering, planning, and building departments. These revenue shortfalls were also cited as the reason for the city dismissing 10 employees by March of this year.

The re-allocation of General Fund money includes substantial cuts to the Fire/EMS Fund, Street Operations Fund, and Building Code Enforcement Fund, as well as a $535,000 cut to the Police Department. Some of those cut-backs were redirected to other cash-strapped departments, which are turning to the general fund to bridge a massive budget shortfall attributed to the drop in fee collections. The biggest bailout went to the planning department, which got a $1.65 million from the general fund to help staunch the proverbial bleeding of a $2,708,000 shortfall in fee collections due to the slump in home building.

Despite the re-allocation of funds, Bend Interim City Manager Eric King said that the city "is not in a crisis mode."

"This is an operational process, not a crisis situation," King said.

After all the shifting is said and done, the council trimmed $3.2 million from the city budget.

The council, with the exception of one councilor, also adopted a resolution authorizing an $80,000 loan from the General Fund to the Tourism fund for the ArtMatch Program, which will eventually be repaid between 2008-09 from hotel/motel room taxes.

ArtMatch, a public/private collaborative effort to increase the presence of public art in Bend, was founded in December 2006 and is the force behind the art in Bend's roundabouts.

Councilor Chris Telfer cast the lone no vote on the measure. Before the vote she said the city needs to protect the General Fund from further raiding.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Before the regular meeting got underway, the council met with city attorney Jim Forbes in a work session to review the new Oregon government ethics laws recently passed by the state Legislature, which went into effect Jan. 1. In what seemed like a first day of school syllabus review with Forbes as the teacher and the City Council and staff as the attentive and at times confused students, Forbes outlined the new rules.

Under the new guidelines, public officials cannot accept more than $50 in food or other gifts from someone within a single year. As Forbes explained it, if a councilor went out to lunch twice with someone who had an interest in the city's affairs and those meals added up to $50, the councilor wouldn't be able to accept future meals.

Mayor Bruce Abernethy wasn't too hot on the new rules, calling certain aspects of the new law, "completely ridiculous."

Councilor Jim Clinton also expressed his dislike for the requirement that officials submit documentation of the meals and gifts they receive.

"I'm not going to report every time someone buys me a cup of coffee," Clinton said.

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