Things that Fall from the Sky

Several years ago, I read a news story about a guy who was stopped at a traffic light in Seattle when a car on the upper story of a parking garage went through a barrier and fell onto the unsuspecting motorist’s roof.  I know the poor fellow who was waiting at the light was killed, but I’ve forgotten the fate of the driver who caused the accident.  The recent tragedies in Oklahoma, Boston, and Texas are additional reminders that bad things often happen to us even when we are doing nothing wrong.  The City received some news this week that, although much less tragic, falls into this category.

It seems that the state of Oregon made errors over a number of years when assessing the value of Hewlett-Packard’s property in Corvallis and recently lost a court battle that will cost Benton County taxing jurisdictions about $9 million.  I am not certain how or why an error in Corvallis ends up costing the City of Albany something more than $400,000, but I am assured by people who know more about Oregon’s convoluted property tax system than I, that it will.

We just completed our Budget Committee hearings last week, and our process did not anticipate the loss of $400,000.  We believe this will be a one-time expense that can be covered by reserve funds, but the bad news is this cost places an additional strain on an already stressed General Fund budget.  We are fortunate that our loss is small compared to the more than $2 million owed by the City of Corvallis, and we can count our blessings that we are not facing Eugene’s $6 million budget gap.  Unfortunately, the misery in other jurisdictions and our sympathy for them does nothing to pay our bills.

Our challenge will be to continue to control costs after years of cutting expenses.  I do not believe we can ask voters for additional tax resources while unemployment remains high and when we are steadily raising water and sewer rates to cover both capital and operating needs.  Many if not most City employees have already assumed additional responsibilities to cover the loss of those who have retired or left the organization.  I do not see this situation changing in the near future.

I take more than a little comfort from the knowledge that adjustments to our budget should not lead to position cuts or service reductions and that most of the economic news in recent days has been positive.  We are seeing more building permits, new retail development, and some revival of interest from manufacturing firms.  We are also ready to handle most of the bad things that fall from the sky, but it is always nice to see the occasional rainbow.