New staff are being added to the city of Hermiston to support its expanding services, including a parks foreman to allow the parks and recreation director to focus on longterm projects as the city eyes the possibility of a new aquatic center.
The changes were reviewed by the city’s budget committee, which approved the 2018-2019 budget Thursday and passed it on to the city council for approval.
City Manager Byron Smith said the city is currently conducting an aquatic center feasibility study and also plans to create an overall master plan for parks and trails in 2018-2019. Hiring a full-time parks foreman, who will oversee day-to-day maintenance of city parks, will free up department head Larry Fetter to focus on more “longterm vision” projects like the possible indoor aquatics or “wellness” center, which was a top request citizens made during a livability study in 2015.
“At the end of this study we will have a dollar amount, an estimate of what it would cost ... then we will be able to figure out how we are going to pay for that,” he said.
Part-time clerical positions are also being added to the Hermiston Community Center, which the parks department took over operation of in January, and to the Harkenrider Center, which will house the senior center when it is completed in late summer. Smith said the Harkenrider Center employee will work with the senior center board as a liaison and be in the building during activities like mealtimes to offer assistance.
The city is adding a storm water management position in 2018-2019 that will be split between the street department and utility fund. City staff will be given a three percent cost of living increase.
Overall, the $54.9 million budget is about $4.7 million smaller than the current fiscal year, which Smith said was mostly due to the city finishing up big capital projects like the Harkenrider Center and festival street. The city had expected to take on a re-alignment of the intersection of Harper, Geer and River roads during 2018-2019 but Smith said there are still design issues being worked out that will delay the project into the next year.
The biggest capital project the city has planned for the upcoming fiscal year is a new one-million-gallon water storage tank in the northeast part of town. The roughly $4.5 million project will be paid for through a short-term loan that will be repaid by enterprise zone payments from Lamb Weston’s factory expansion.
“The project will address a number of challenges for our water system there,” Smith said, noting that low water pressure in the northeast part of town was discouraging housing development there.
He said if the city keeps growing as projected, in about five years it would not meet state recommendations for water storage capacity without the new tank, which will be the same size as the water tower on North Highway 395.
The city is planning to move forward with a new skate park that will be built on First Place across from the police department and fire station. The department also plans to install the other nine holes of a disc golf course installed last year on 11th Street across from Good Shepherd Medical Center. Smith said the money for the course will be funded through raising private donations.
Bids open next week for contractors to build the West Highland Trail Extension, which will create a trail that runs parallel to Highland Avenue from 11th Street to Riverfront Park.
The city is keeping an eye on the Hermiston Community Center budget since it took over operation. Every weekend in the center is booked for the year, he said, and so far revenue for the first quarter has tracked with what the center was making under the chamber this time of year.
The city has recently taken over full management of another event venue — the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center. Smith said trying to move the finances from an intergovernmental arrangement with Umatilla County to being fully under the umbrella of the city’s finances has been quite the accounting challenge. As he went over the budget for EOTEC with the committee he said most operational costs listed were actually covered by the $9,000 per month the city is paying VenuWorks to run the center, but they were all listed in the budget anyway to be more transparent about how EOTEC is run.
Smith said money the city is contributing to subsidize EOTEC’s operation would come from the Transient Room Tax placed on hotel reservations, not property taxes paid by local residents. While in the past the TRT funds have been self-reported by hoteliers and short-term RV parks, the city plans to audit the affected businesses this year to make sure they are reporting their income accurately.
Overall, Smith said, the city’s finances are in good shape. He said proposed general fund revenues are up $710,000 over 2017-2018, and 61 percent of that number was due to increased property tax revenue.
The budget will be up for approval by the city council on May 29. The council meeting is being held on a Tuesday due to Memorial Day.