I have learned over many years of directing, participating in, and observing Oregon public sector budget processes that there are a number of legitimate ways to get the job done. Some organizations start with the idea of how much money is needed to complete a work program, while others begin with the concept of what can they afford to do with the resources they have. Other approaches include focusing on cutting expenses or looking for ways to increase revenue. The primary goal of whatever method or combination of methods that are used should be to align expenses with revenues, or more simply, to balance the budget.
Albany’s Budget Committee will be working to achieve this goal over the next few months after they receive a proposed budget from staff. The guiding principles provided by the City Council will be to: 1) cut expenses; 2) use other reserve funds to offset service level cuts where possible; 3) maintain public safety services at their current reduced levels; and 4) do not use settlement resources reserved for economic development and facility needs.
I believe we can develop a responsible budget that observes these principles and generally maintains existing service levels across city departments. I do not anticipate the need to close facilities; and, if there is a need for layoffs, the number will be small. I cannot promise that there will be no need for staff reductions beyond our voluntary separation program, but I am hopeful we can avoid layoffs.
Albany has wisely accumulated a substantial amount of money over a period of many years to be reserved for specific purposes, such as equipment replacement and risk management. We also received a large financial settlement from PepsiCo after the company chose to walk away from their contract to build a major industrial project here. The Council understands that treating reserve funds as a revenue source is an unsustainable financial management practice and has emphasized that use of reserves must be a short-term strategy that includes a plan to replace what is used. The Council also realizes that there is little need to cut services if there are sufficient resources to fund them in the short term and a reasonable plan to sustain them over time.
We will be taking more time to develop and review the budget this year, as many of the choices are likely to be more difficult and carry more consequences than in previous years. I have been accused of being overly optimistic in the past regarding the budget, and I may be guilty of that charge again. I prefer acting with a sense of purpose and hope rather than assuming a disagreeable future.