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Phoenix looks at parks, public safety fees

Phoenix city councilors didn’t appear any happier than two members of the public Monday who spoke against adding fees to water bills to help pay for parks and public safety, but they unanimously passed the first readings of fee ordinances.

City staff proposed the monthly fees — $2 for parks and $5 for public safety — be added to water bills to deal with a budget shortfall. The fees would bring in about $49,000 annually for parks and $122,000 for public safety, both of which are in the city’s general fund. Phoenix already has a $2.40 street fee.

Second readings of the measures, along with public hearings, are scheduled for the June 17 council session. The council set a study session for Monday, June 10, to see whether there is a way to reduce budget expenses, look at revenues and consider options.

“I’d like to dig in and see what we can cut before we hit the citizens,” said Councilor Angie Vermillion. “Is there a certain percentage from each department that could be cut?”

Even with the extra revenue, Finance Director J.C. Boothe told the council, the city’s lone parks maintenance position would need to be cut July 1, and a part-time position to manage the civic center would not be filled.

If the fees are not passed, the city would need to look at additional employee cuts, she said. Temporary employees would be hired to do some of the parks work. In addition, top-level employees would not receive raises in the coming fiscal year.

“Reducing services and raising taxes at the same time; I’m not happy about this at all,” said Councilor Terry Baker.

Expenditures are up and revenues are down in the current fiscal year, Boothe reported. Part of the downturn in revenue is due to transfer of the municipal court function to Jackson County, which now takes half of all fines. Operation and maintenance for the new civic center and PERS cost raises are driving increases in city expenses.

“We have a bunch of people out there who will not be able to afford easily a $7 increase,” said Councilor Jim Snyder.

Tony Chavez and former mayor Jeff Bellah spoke against adding the surcharges. Bellah criticized the emergency status of the ordinances, which would allow them to be implemented July 1 if the council votes to enact them June 17.

“I’m sorry to hear that it’s coming up as a last-minute crisis. The discussion you are having tonight probably should have been predicted a year ago,” said Bellah. He was critical that only one Budget Committee meeting was held, saying six were held one year during his time in office while dealing with a shortfall.

Bellah said measures such as furloughing employees one day each month, freezing hires and cutting positions were used a decade ago when the city faced financial stress that resulted in a proposed $20 surcharge. The city also eliminated its fire department, with Fire District 5 assuming that responsibility. Those measures prevented imposition of a surcharge, he said.

“Questions should be asked before we go to them and say we are going to do the easy thing and increase fees,” said Bellah. “It’s going to be hard to raise fees once. You really want to save that as a last-ditch effort.”

Bellah offered to serve on a group to look into budget matters if one is formed. He also said a bond to fund public safety might be considered.

Many other Rogue Valley municipalities have parks and public safety surcharges added onto utility bills. Jacksonville has a $20 public safety charge but no parks fee. Talent has $4 public safety and $5 parks fees. Central Point charges $1 for each category, while Medford charges $7.42 for public safety and $2.95 for parks. Ashland, with its own electric utility, adds a tax onto electricity that helps fund police and fire services.

Talent City Council meets at the Plaza Civic Center, 220 N. Main St. Monday’s study session starts at 6 p.m., and the June 17 meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

The Phoenix Plaza opened last summer on Highway 99. Photo fromo phoenixciviccenter.org.