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Butte Falls prepares to tighten its belt

BUTTE FALLS - A town that has water meters for the first time in its 90-year history will have to tighten its belt as it prepares for a budget that's half of what the city spent over the last year.

The $518,306 in proposed spending is a big drop from last year's $1.39 million budget, which included money to lay new water pipe, install meters and fire hydrants and build a new water reservoir.

— Butte Falls proposed 2001-02 budget

Last year's budget figures are in parentheses

General Fund: $151,447 ($146,739) Fire: $13,480 ($14,891) Police: $80,776 ($81,989) Public Works closing fund: ($214,201) Water: $115,964 (New Fund) Sewer: $82,018 (New Fund) Debt: $21,850 ($21,850) 911 fund: $2,500 ($2,500) Water reserve: $9,106 ($54,162) Sewer reserve: $12,636 ($12,636) Water master plan: $45,237 ($45,142) Economic development: $4,000 ($7,000) Community Hall: $7,300 ($7,200) Vehicle reserve: $3,927 ($4,927) Water bottling: $0 ($6,650) Youth Center: $0 ($20,068) Capital projects: $10,000 ($765,910)

Total: $518,306 ($1,398,301) "This is a very short budget," said Mayor Ethel Hoppe, a granddaughter of the town's founder. "Now that logging is gone, we don't have any industry up here. Basically, it's just the people who live inside the cattle guards trying to keep the town going."

The town will make its first payment on the $1.6 million water project next month, said Tom Hayes, public works director. The $45,060 payment is coming mostly from an $18 hike in water bills the town has been collecting and saving for two years. At $58.81 per month, Butte Falls residents have the highest basic water rate in Southern Oregon.

Now that Butte Falls has replaced its aging and leaking water pipes and reservoir, the town is ready to expand and update its undersized sewer treatment plant and laboratory. However, because engineering work and funding is not yet in place, the $1.6 million project won't show up until next year's budget, Hayes said.

The good news in the proposed 2001-02 budget is that the town has found a way to keep its school resource officer, said budget officer Melissa Owens. Police Chief Melvin Ray secured a three-year grant from the Ford Foundation to cover the salary.

The seven employees who work for the town of Butte Falls have not yet settled on wages, Owens said. The Town Council is still discussing salaries.

Since the town's youth center closed last year due to lack of funds, the town shifted its funding for the center to the volunteer fire department, Owens said. A tavern now occupies the spot that served as a game room and activity center for young people.

The town's revenue will continue to come from franchise fees, traffic fines, cigarette and other taxes, business licenses, grants and $79,216 from property taxes.

Butte Falls property owners pay a city tax rate of $7.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, the highest of any Southern Oregon city. Yet property values are the lowest in the county - the assessed value in Butte Falls is $10.6 million.

Also ranked near the bottom of the assessed value chart is Gold Hill at $53 million, and Rogue River at $110 million. comparison, Medford's assessed value is $4.2 billion and Ashland's is $1.5 billion, according to real market value assessments from the Jackson County Assessor's Office.

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail