The Hermiston City Council adopted a budget on Monday night that was roughly $1 million smaller than the current fiscal year, thanks to several large construction projects that are now off the books.
Revenue increases from the city’s growth were balanced by a 25% increase in costs associated with the Public Employees Retirement System.
Mayor David Drotzmann said the state needs to get PERS spending under control soon, before the day comes when the city is forced to make cuts to services such as parks or police. He said the city was lucky to have increases in property tax revenue to assist in covering the rising costs.
“A lot of other rural cities aren’t that fortunate,” he said.
Beyond increased property taxes, the city has turned toward other ways to fund projects. The adopted 2019-20 budget included several major water and sewer projects, in part funded by a March increase in water and sewer rates.
While residents have been encouraging each other on social media to ask the city council to rethink its utility rate increases on Monday, only one person actually showed up to voice a complaint. She said she had been “shocked” to see her bill almost double and was concerned about the increase’s impact on residents.
During time for council comment at the end of the meeting, councilor Rod Hardin said he was sympathetic to the problem, as his own increase in his water bill has caused him to rethink his water usage habits.
“It’s a challenge, but seeing what we have on the budget as far as water projects and sewer projects, it needs to be done,” he said. “I understand it, but it does hurt.”
Before Monday’s regular meeting, city councilors spent an hourlong work session discussing the strategic plan for the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center.
They agreed that getting water rights to the new fairgrounds should be the top priority, as it would feed into other goals such as landscaping.
Previously one of the council’s top goals had been creating an RV park at the site that could rent out spaces year-round and bring in revenue to make EOTEC self-sustaining. But after a disagreement about where the park should be located derailed plans to complete the park this summer, they sent it to their EOTEC advisory committee.
The committee is recommending that the city do some minor upgrades — limited electricity and a dump station — to the grassy area currently serving as an RV park during the Umatilla County Fair, and put plans to build a full RV park next to the rodeo arena on hold indefinitely.
Councilor John Kirwan supported moving the RV park down on the strategic plan’s goals list and moving a proposed multi-sport, sports field area up the list. He pointed out that no organizations had expressed interest in helping fund an RV park, but several entities had already said they would be willing to make a significant investment in fields that could bring major tournaments for sports, such as lacrosse, to Hermiston.
He and Drotzmann both pointed out the economic benefits of bringing in more sports tournaments, and of giving more of the community a reason to feel ownership over EOTEC.
Other councilors voiced their own opinions about what should work its way up the priority list — Doug Primmer said the city needed to beef up its security at EOTEC to protect what was already invested, while Jackie Myers said the hard-to-find location needed more signs pointing people in the right direction.
Councilors also agreed that a marketing plan, new fair offices, landscaping and more meeting space should be high priorities in the strategic plan.