Corvalllis sends mixed money messages
CORVALLIS – If a sign on a model dinosaur in the Osborn Aquatic Center lobby recently was to be believed, the public pool was on the verge of extinction.
The book deposit in the rear parking lot of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library is plastered with signs saying, “Closed Saturday nights and Sunday mornings (Due to budget cuts).”
Another sign at the library information desk explains why 2003 tax forms are not available as they were in previous years.
“The library greatly reduced the number of forms ordered because of budget service reductions,” it reads.
And in the publication “Your City: Your Voice” that was distributed this winter, Corvallis officials describe the current financial outlook for fire, parks and recreation, land-use planning, police, transit and library services as “grim.”
The brochure and a six-week public outreach campaign solicited feedback on how the city could balance expenditures with revenue.
The conclusion drawn by many people was that city services and programs were in peril.
In fact, the city has painted such a bleak financial picture that it came as a surprise to many people when, earlier this month, the City Council decided to open a new fire station and hire nine more firefighters without raising taxes.
City finance director Nancy Brewer said revenue projections for the fiscal year beginning July 1 are that the city will end the year with a $500,000 positive balance, after adding funding for the fire station and without having to make any cuts.
So where did the money come from?
Corvallis is one of the richest towns in Oregon. Corvallis and Benton County is the home of Oregon State University, a large Hewlett-Packard facility and numerous secondary companies. During the last recession they had the lowest unemployment rate in the state. In fact, they usually have the lowest unemployment in the state. The county is small, the population well educated and the property values and rents are so high that the “poor” cannot afford to live there. They live across the river in Linn County, which has one of the highest rates of unemployment.
They are upset because the latest tax measure failed. They and public agencies throughout the State have been promising cuts if the tax increase did not pass. If cuts they promised, cuts there will be. They do have extra money but instead of using it to fund operations, they spent it on a new fire station and crew. The extra money will only pay for the current year and insure that additional funds will be needed.
So they warn of cuts. Not saying when the cuts will happen. They have warned the public and now they are going to make sure their prophecies come true.
This is not confined to Corvallis though. I recently called the local Child Welfare office during lunch and got their answering machine. They say on their message that due to budget cuts they are only open from 8 AM to 5 PM. That has been their normal hours for as long as I have been in my present position (15 years). But it scares people, which is what they want to do.