Things could be better, said Brookings City Manager Leroy Blodgett Wednesday in his budget message for fiscal year 2001-02 to the Brookings Budget Committee.

However, he said, we only need to look around Curry County and other parts of the state to see how much worse they could be.

Blodgett concluded, Next fiscal year will be tight, but it will be an exciting challenge, not a disaster.

The budget committee includes Mayor Bob Hagbom, City Councilors Larry Curry, Rick Dentino, Frances Johns and Lorraine Kuhn.

Lay members include Harold Thiesen, Bruce Nishioka, Virginia Byrtus, Stanley Baron and Lee Rogers.

Blodgett and Finance Director Randy Reed made several changes this year to bring the city into compliance with accepted accounting principles.

First of all, Blodgett designated himself, the city manager, as the budget officer. In past years the finance director has served as the budget officer.

Second, he instructed the budget committee to elect a vice chairman, which hadnt been done before.

The committee quickly elected Thiesen as chairman, Rogers as vice chair, and Byrtus as secretary.

The proposed budget and tax rate was approved by the committee in a little more than two hours. It will receive a public hearing on June 11 before being adopted by the city council on June 25.

The permanent tax rate was approved at $3.763 per $1,000 of property value. With a levy for the Debt Service Bond Fund, the total tax rate for the city came to $4.0372 per $1,000.

Hagbom said the total net property taxes received by the city are barely enough to fund the police department alone.

Blodgett said increased revenue from taxes came mainly from new construction. There have been no annexations for four or five years.

He said a drop in the use of tobacco and alcohol is good for health, but means less tax revenue for the city.

He also said the city will now anticipate grants in its budget. Port Commissioner Ken Byrtus said he was delighted to hear that and offered the ports help to bring more grants to the community.

Blodgett said major budget changes included a switch from listing items as capital outlays to properly identifying them as transfers out.

The money in the capital outlay funds was usually only partly spent, with the remainder thrown back into the general fund. That left no real reserve. The transfers out will be specifically designed for individual projects.

Blodgett also said the city had previously operated without a cash carry-over, though one was needed to pay expenses until property tax revenues arrived in November or December.

Instead, said Blodgett, the city would declare a spending freeze this time of year, and departments would not spend what was allotted in each budget item to save enough to continue operations.

The city actually needs a cash carry-over of about $300,000, said Blodgett. He put in $20,000 this year to start building the fund.

He and Reed also discovered several funds that listed zero balances in previous years that should have had, or did have, money in them.

Blodgett, Reed and the city staff received praise from the city councilors and lay members for the job they did on the budget.

Blodgett said the budget is fairly tight, but includes money in reserve funds, along with $3,360,275 in total capital outlay.

Blodgett cautioned that the city faces future challenges. The city will pay $1.6 million in principal and interest next year for the wastewater treatment plant expansion.

Blodgett said that will use up much of the money built up in a reserve fund since voters approved the $13 million project in 1997.

He said new hookups in Harbor are much lower than projected. To meet future payments, the city will study raising sewer rates or system development charges.

Increased charges are anticipated, but the amount has not been determined, so a supplemental budget may be required later.

The average residential bill is currently about $50 a month. Blodgett said the number of accounts remained relatively constant at 2,600-2,800.

He said the city is also negotiating with the state for lower payments to the revolving loan fund.

The city would then make higher payments toward the end of the 20 year loan, when there should be more development and ratepayers to split the cost.

Hagbom said in past years the city general fund had been supported by transfers, up to $600,000 a year, from the wastewater treatment fund and others. Those funds will now go to the treatment plant payments.

Because there was no tax increase during times of heavy growth, said Hagbom, the city now has infrastructure needs, like pipes that should have been replaced.

Were hurting now because of that, he said. We dont handle it that way anymore.

Not to that extent, said Curry.

The city will also have to pay slightly more in personnel costs. It will have 46 full time and 12 part time employees. It had 41 full time and 13 part time in fiscal year 1997-98.

In the coming fiscal year, the city will need one new temporary employee in the Finance Department to start implementation of GASB 34.

That federal law requires governments to inventory and depreciate assets the way corporations do.

Blodgett said the city will have to figure out the market value of everything from streets and parks to road signs and 50-year-old sewer pipes.

He said the new requirements made the citys auditor decide to not do government auditing anymore.

Rogers said at least the public will then know exactly what it costs to run a city.

A lot of grumbling taxpayers want to know whats going on, she said. People would see the infrastructure needs.

The city will also move a part time police dispatcher to a full time position to cover extra workload.

The city will not increase base salaries this year, but will pick up the 6 percent of salaries that employees pay into the PERS retirement system. During the next two years of the contract, raises will be based on the Consumer Price Index.

The city will also move ahead next year on several projects. The Downtown Master Plan will be funded with a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service.

The skate park has received $120,000 in donations. The city must now choose whether to wait until the original architect can get to the project in the fall, or find another architect who can build it earlier.

Byrtus said the public wants the original architect, who designed the skate park for the Olympics. Blodgett said the big donor wanted to see the money put to use as soon as possible.

The city will also proceed with its Park Master Plan with a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Parks Department. The plan will include a study of enclosing the swimming pool.

A grant obtained two years ago is helping to develop a water management plan.

The city has also decided to finally do something about deferred improvement agreements. Blodgett said the city allowed too many owners to defer requirements like building sidewalks. Over the years, it has become difficult to call them in.

The city will begin to enforce existing agreements and will limit future deferrals. It will also establish a sidewalk installation and replacement plan.

Blodgett said that would result in patches of sidewalk here and there at first, but the city would eventually link them together.

Also included in the budget is support for a countywide Economic Development Corp.

The city will continue to study whether a new fire hall or an expansion of the existing one will best meet long-range needs.

Money will be saved for a new fire truck, but it wont be purchased until it can be parked under cover.

Long-range goals also include a community center, downtown revitalization, and a public works shop.