Budget Task Force News

Several months ago, I met with Finance Director Stewart Taylor to suggest an idea I had been thinking about for some time.   We face unprecedented financial challenges in the coming months, and I believe there is great benefit in seeking advice about how to conserve from people who know our organization best.  I asked Stewart to lead a budget task force that would discuss our situation and seek ways to address it.

The Budget Task Force was formed with the goal of hearing new ideas; helping to spread accurate information about our circumstances throughout the organization; and producing a better budget proposal for policy makers.  Employees were invited to participate in the Task Force by directors, who were simply asked to provide representatives from their departments.  The Task Force is comprised of:

Ben Atchley, Police Mike Hamann, IT Marilyn Smith, City Manager’s Office
John Bradner, Fire Peter Harr, Engineering Angie Sousa, Operations
Pete Brandstetter, IT Joel Heenan, Building Stewart Taylor, Finance
Norma Daily, Police Kristin Johns, Building Marcia Timm, Library
Mary Dibble, Finance Katie Nooshazar, Parks & Rec Shane Wooton, Fire
Danny Halsey, Operations David Shaw, HR Diane Wood, Finance

The Task Force meets every two weeks.  The agendas, meeting handouts, and notes are posted on the Intranet under Finance/Budget Task Force, or you can click here:  Budget Task Force.  All employees are encouraged to participate in the survey, review materials on the Intranet, and share their thoughts with members of the budget task force.

The next meeting date is Tuesday, December 1; and the final meeting date is Tuesday, December 15.

I believe we have the capacity and resources to sustain services and jobs during some difficult economic times, but we cannot do so by continuing to spend at current levels.  We have already made some significant reductions by not filling vacant positions and by cutting contributions to several reserve funds.  We will need to do more in the coming budget year.

I do not expect our Task Force to magically solve the City’s financial problems.  I do expect the group to make an important contribution to the focus and discipline that will be required to minimize the negative effects of flat or declining revenues.  I have been encouraged by the group’s work to date and hope that all employees will take a moment to talk with a representative from their department.

My last blog focused on counting my blessings.  A budget task force may seem like a small blessing, but I’m grateful we have people who are willing to work together to seek solutions before a crisis compels a reaction rather than the implementation of a thoughtful plan.

Truly Thankful

On Wednesday, November 18, my wife and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary.  We were married November 18, 1972, in Metolius, Oregon, while we were students at Central Oregon Community College.  Pictures from that day verify that I once had a full head of hair and looked remarkably young.  I’m not sure why my wife’s appearance has changed so little while mine has changed so much, except to say I have frequently observed that city manager years are something like dog years.

We did not begin our marriage with an agreed-upon strategy for how we would conduct our lives.  We both wanted to finish college, have children, and be of service to our family and community; but I’m not sure we ever discussed those goals in great detail.  Evelyn did most of the thinking while I was busy acting upon my last impulse.  She wanted six children, and I wanted two; so we compromised at four.

Evelyn earned her teaching degree at Old Dominion University while I served in the Navy.  We were still getting to know one another in those days, and it took me awhile to figure out that her claims about failing classes and desperately needing my help were exaggerations.  Evelyn graduated magna cum laude from college, and I did not.  We both earned our graduate degrees some years later, after discovering that our chosen fields required more education.

Working as an administrator for nonprofits and as a construction laboratory technician while Evelyn worked as a very well-educated school secretary taught us the need for frugality and persistence.  Evelyn was eventually able to find a teaching job, and I was fortunate to begin work for the City of Oakridge in 1988.  Our accomplishments, like everyone else’s, came from a combination of hard work and good fortune.

Neither of us imagined 37 years ago that we would be living about 100 miles from where we went to high school after nearly four decades or that we would have nine-plus grandchildren.  We did not aspire to travel to or work in the developing world, and I doubt I could have found many of the places I’ve worked on a map in 1972.

Our lives have been richly blessed by our large extended family and the opportunity to work for communities in a state we love.  All of this may be more information than the average blog reader desires; but I think it’s appropriate to express our blessings, particularly at Thanksgiving.  I am truly grateful for the past 37 years and look forward to whatever the future will bring.  Happy Thanksgiving!

1972

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2008

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You Get What You Pay For

I have a lot of respect for newspaper people who write daily editorials or columns.  My weekly blog taxes my limited powers of observation, imagination, and intellect; so, I know it is a real challenge to write accurate, informative, and thoughtful columns every day.  Not surprisingly, even the best editorialists write an occasional clinker.

Yesterday’s newspaper contained a diatribe complaining about government robbing us of our freedom.  This is a familiar theme not only in the media, but also in everyday conversation.  Who among us has not resented one government regulation or another at some time in our life?  I have already confessed in an earlier blog that I occasionally violated angling regulations when I was an adolescent (the statute of limitations applies here).  I have, however, also lived and worked in a number of places where government has little or no influence on the lives of its citizens.

If you can imagine a place where there is no enforcement of traffic laws; every household has at least one AK47; garbage covers the landscape; electricity and water service costs nothing; no one pays taxes; people are routinely blown up; roads are filled with potholes; ambulance and fire service is largely nonexistent; police officers are as likely to be criminals or terrorists as law enforcement officials; and public servants frequently serve no one but themselves, you will have imagined Iraq in 2004.  People were largely free to do whatever they wanted, but it is interesting to note that almost no one seemed happy or content.

During my first visit to Indonesia in 2001, I learned that foreign correspondents from at least one country received a stipend in their pay to cover the cost of bribing public officials for information.  I saw no evidence of traffic enforcement; but I was told that on the rare occasion when a police officer stopped someone, the fine was taken care of on the spot.  I was also able to witness firsthand the presidential transition from one political party to another when tanks and armored personnel carriers surrounded the presidential palace and compelled the old president to give way to a new one.

Working in Sri Lanka in 2006, I visited 14 local government offices throughout the island nation.  Concepts of budgeting, transparency, public participation, and accountability for service delivery were largely unknown.  I saw very little evidence of effective public services, unless you count a very visible military presence.  I worked closely with a Sri Lankan friend in Iraq, who, like most educated Sri Lankans, had emigrated to the U.S. years before we met.

I will be leaving for a three-week assignment in Ethiopia at the end of this month (It’s how I spend my vacations.) where I have been asked to work with a local government on “revenue enhancement” and completing a public toilet project.  This work is part of a capacity building effort by the U.S. Agency for International Development that tries to help make local governments more effective at serving their people.  If successful, I may be helping this local government get more money in taxes and fees from local residents.

I wrote the following paragraph while working in Iraq in 2004:

“I see progress every day in Iraq, and democracy is starting to take root.  Iraqi citizens will need to recognize, however, what even those of us who have it sometimes forget.  The greatest freedom we enjoy in the United States is not license to do anything we please.  The Iraqis have more of that kind of freedom right now than we do. Our greatest liberty is our power to control our own destiny.  We are not the helpless victims of fate; and if we do not like the condition of our government or our lives, we can change them.  People of many nationalities, but mostly Iraqis, are dying to secure that liberty here.  I believe it is a worthwhile cause.”

I guess it makes sense that a city manager who has spent a long career working for local governments would see the world differently than a newspaper editor who has spent a long career looking at and for the worst in government.  There is validity in both perspectives; but based on my experience, I would much rather pay for reliable government services than pay little or nothing and receive commensurate value.