Albany City Manager Peter Troedsson led a conversation Monday with City Council members regarding options to raise the city’s revenue and cut its costs. The discussion generated requests for more information on things ranging from the repurposing of the Carnegie Library to a soda tax.
“All of these options are very difficult,” Troedsson said. “I know discussion is going to be tough.”
The council passed a budget in June that included cuts to the fire and police departments as well as the library and the closure of Maple Lawn Preschool. At the time, Troedsson said revenue was rising but was being outpaced by expenditures.
To get the ball rolling, councilors received 15 suggestions from city staff members, including increases in the franchise fees which companies pay to the city for the right to use public space to provide services. Troedsson said staff was already working with Republic Services and Northwest Natural to raise their fees by 1% each, raising them to 7% and 6% of their service fees respectively. If those fees are raised, the city could earn an additional $330,000 a year.
The implementation of an assisted living facility bed fee will also come back to the council as a possible revenue source. The suggested $200 per bed, per month fee would generate $200,000 a year.
“That’s $16.60 a month for my clients,” said Councilor Alex Johnson II who has a personal insurance business and has noted the majority of his clients are seniors. He noted that Medicaid would shoulder the majority of the fee, but still said that the $16.60 represented "real money for my clients."
Troedsson said the fee was being considered due to the number of calls for service that come from assisted living facilities; those calls cost the Fire Department money, he said.
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But the idea got some pushback from Councilor Bill Coburn. “It’s my understanding that those falls and things are due to low staffing," he said. He suggested that if the council institutes the fee, it could allow facilities that hire additional staffing to opt out.
The council chose not to receive more information on combining the Parks and Recreation Department with the library, a proposed payroll tax or consolidating the city's 911 system with the county's system. But councilors did request more information on implementing a soda tax and repurposing the building that houses the Carnegie Library for other uses.
“A soda tax, we’re going down into a certain avenue I don’t think we should go down,” said Mayor Sharon Konopa. “How would we implement it?”
According to Troedsson, distributors would pay the tax when delivering the product to stores. Stores would then pass that cost onto customers.
“If I were a business selling soda pop and we had this tax, I would go to Millersburg or Tangent,” Konopa said. Councilor Bessie Johnson said she doubted grocery and convenience stores in Albany would stop selling soda due to the tax.
Troedsson said that repurposing the Carnegie Library would mean cutting two full-time positions, amounting to about $178,000 in savings per year.
Other suggestions that are due back before the council include adding an extra fee to the city's monthly utilities bill. The council could take that action on its own, but most councilors on Monday said they would prefer putting that proposal before voters. Councilors also want more information on increasing the current public safety levy, which could go before voters in May 2020.
Councilors also requested more information on the idea of closing the Albany Community Pool, 2150 36th Ave. In addition, councilors asked for more information about raising the rates for Fire Med insurance for ambulance rides from $65 to $70 a year.