It's been a rough year so far for the city of Albany's budgeting process, and there may be additional bumps in the road ahead.
The city's Budget Committee recently forwarded the two-year spending plan to the City Council, but not before four members voted against it. The catch is that three of those "no" votes came from committee members who also serve on the City Council. The fourth "no" vote came from Mayor Sharon Konopa. Assuming that the three councilors maintain their opposition to the budget, that could result in a tie vote on the six-member council. In that case, presumably, Konopa would vote to break the tie, and she's already voted once against the budget.
It's not clear, however, what options the council has at this relatively late date. The council already has voted to raise some fees and has banked some savings to help keep the Fire Department solvent and to give the city-run Maple Lawn Preschool another year to work out other funding options. But the budget still hammers the city's Police Department, leaving it with a gap of $1.7 million for the two-year period starting July 1. The department will be forced to freeze positions and disband its street crimes and traffic units.
At recent meetings, Konopa has been exploring ideas to raise additional revenue, such as implementing a utility fee, raising planning fees or increasing franchise fees. Members of the council such as Rich Kellum are floating cost-saving ideas, but it's fair to say that all of the easy cuts already have been made. It's also fair to say that the council has in the past looked askance at raising fees. It's worth noting, however, that in Tuesday's elections, mid-valley voters showed a willingness to approve levies — assuming that they knew exactly where the money raised by those levies would be spent.
In the meantime, City Manager Peter Troedsson has attracted criticism for preparing a budget under the assumption that the economy would cool down or possibly even tumble into recession, as some economists predict. But he and the city's staff would have been foolhardy to assume otherwise. We always forget in good economic times that they'll eventually end. But they always do.
One last note: We were gratified that it was a member of the Budget Committee who made the initial observation that led to city officials discovering that the budget included a $500,000 error. (The city will dip into its contingency funds to cover the error.) In a nutshell, this is why these budget committees mandated by state law do important work. (mm)
Congratulations to the West Albany High School Wind Ensemble for bringing home a state championship at the recent Oregon School Activities Association competition, held at the LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus.
Ensembles in the competition have to excel in two distinct challenges as judges listen carefully. The West Albany group prepared and performed a pair of challenging pieces.
But the arguably harder challenge comes in the dreaded sight-reading exercise, in which the band is ushered into another room and members are handed a piece of music they've never seen before. They have seven minutes to look at it; they can't work it out by playing it on their instruments. After the seven minutes is up, they perform.
The Bulldogs racked up 58 out of a possible 60 points in that competition, and went on to claim the 5A title.
The biggest challenge, however, may have come in the weeks before the competition, when band director Stuart Welsh struggled to find time for the group to rehearse; these students who perform in band and other extracurriculars often are the ones who also excel in other areas. And this is the time of year when those students are juggling particularly crazy schedules. But they found a way to make award-winning music together. (mm)