We had dinner last night with some friends from eastern Oregon who wanted to know more about Albany. They were just passing through and didn’t know much about the community other than what they saw in their brief passage to our house and, from there, to Novak’s. I was a little surprised when Sandy observed, “You have everything here, don’t you?” It took me a second to realize she was talking about shopping opportunities and to respond that we do indeed have Costco. When you live in some of the more remote parts of the state, stores like Sears, Target, Kohl’s, Home Depot, and Costco apparently constitute “everything.”
I also explained that Albany has four historic districts, is located at the confluence of two rivers, has many parks and trails, a good selection of restaurants, a vibrant local theater group, a nice regional museum, a large community college, a national research laboratory, is a metals processing center, freeze dries the berries in most cereals, produces pharmaceuticals and membrane technology, and offers an amazing variety of recreation programs. Our friends were impressed and promised to visit again when they have more time.
Albany has a lot to offer because, over a long period of time, people have chosen to invest here. Some have invested money, while others have invested their time, talents, or all three. I believe a critical role for the City of Albany is to help insure that people invest in the future.
My experience, both here and abroad, tells me that people invest when they know their investment (whatever it may be) is relatively safe and somewhat predictable. Our desire for security may explain why the City spends most of our tax revenue on public safety. We budgeted in the current year to receive $23.6 million in property taxes and plan to spend about $24.3 million on public safety. This figure does not include the more than $1 million we spend to inspect buildings to make sure they are safe.
People also want to live and invest in a community that offers cultural and recreational opportunities. We budgeted about $7.3 million to maintain our parks, pools, programs, and entertainment like River Rhythms or the Art and Air Festival. The City additionally supports organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. We will spend about $2.4 million to operate our two libraries. We also use lodging tax revenue to promote the community and support attractions like the Monteith House and the annual Veterans’ Day Parade.
Water is essential to the life of any community, and no one would choose to risk their fortune in Albany if we did not have an assured supply of clean water and an equally secure way to treat and dispose of wastewater. I have lived and worked in places that do not have these assurances, and life there is focused on survival rather than hope or prosperity. We budgeted more than $56 million this year to spend on water and wastewater services, although some of this money is maintained as a reserve. Last year we actually spent in excess of $32 million on these services, exclusive of capital projects. Water and sewer services are not funded by taxes but rely on the rates we pay and fees associated with new development.
Communities cannot prosper without a functional transportation system that allows for delivery of goods and services without costly delays. Albany budgeted more than $15 million this year for streets and transit service but will likely spend closer to $11 million on these critical services. The difference is explained by the need to accumulate revenue in reserves for major projects in the future.
The City also maintains reserve funds for equipment replacement and other capital projects that exceed $10 million in the budget. Last year we spent about $2.7 million from these funds. We will spend over $2 million in debt service; about $5.5 million for support services such as Human Resources, Finance, Information Technology, and the City Manager’s Office; as well as more than $3 million from grants. The Albany Urban Renewal Agency spent less than $1.5 million last year and will spend in excess of $2 million this year.
In summary, the City of Albany spent a little less than $103 million last year and will probably spend an amount close to that in the current year. We have spent slightly more than $51 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, although we will likely spend more in the second half of the year due to a major federal grant to fund new fire fighter positions. Last year’s expenditures were the lowest since 2006, reflecting a reduction in our total number of employees and declining revenue.
Albany may not have everything as we enter 2013, regardless of my eastern Oregon friends’ feelings. Communities need to continually attract new investment to maintain old buildings, start new businesses, employ more people, and generally make the place better. Collectively, Albany citizens will spend more than $100 million dollars this year on city services to serve their immediate needs and build for the future. Our most important resource, however, is the belief people hold that Albany is good place to invest their time, talents, and money. My hope for the New Year is that I can do my part to help strengthen that belief and make a positive contribution to the future of my community. I wish the same for all who might read this column, as well as the hope for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.