from City Manager Sarah Medary
Building a budget in times of constraint and high inflation when there are many community needs is challenging and the 2023-2025 budget proposal is the first step towards a more sustainable future.
Every corner of the organization that is funded through the general fund experienced some reductions. Many departments used this as an opportunity to rethink how services are offered and find efficiencies and alternative ways to accomplish their mission.
To address key funding issues in the near term, some difficult decisions have to be made. Departments worked hard to find ways to reduce services without eliminating them completely.
Examples of this are Animal Welfare and Library Services. Animal Welfare services is eliminating a position and reducing funding for materials and supplies but will retain an officer and continue to prioritize services focusing on neglect, abuse, and dangerous animals. By eliminating several vacant positions, the library will be able to keep the branch libraries intact.
This budget proposes service realignments, process efficiencies, cost savings, and increased revenues through fee increases and other opportunities. Progress was made towards the structural gap of $15M:
- Materials and Services in all departments ($2.1 million)
- Recreation and Library personnel costs reductions ($1.9 million)
- Finance, Municipal Court and Council Support process improvements ($800,000)
- Animal Welfare program reductions ($325,000)
- Shutting down a fire engine and replacing with a 24-hour Squad ($1.55 million)
Of the $16.3M in strategies, $4.2M were one-time in nature.
Over the past few years, we have added services (unhoused, downtown, climate etc.) that we have funded on a one-time basis through reserves and grants without an identified long-term source of funding. Funds were repurposed to turn historically one-time funded services into ongoing services.
For example, Human Services Commission (HSC) funds were repurposed to provide ongoing funding for mental health services in the downtown core; resources for unhoused community services and an Alternative Response Planning Chief to help manage the wide range of non-emergency calls. The annual contribution to the HSC will be funded using opioid settlement money the City is receiving over the next several years.
The downtown has been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic with many businesses shifting to remote work and increasing numbers of behavioral health and quality of life issues. We are rethinking and adapting our approach and adding new strategies to further increase public safety, cleanliness and activities that bring our community together.
The focus will be on a quicker and more coordinated response to issues, cleaning and beautification and providing support to individuals needing mental health intervention. It’s important to commit to investments and bring the downtown back to being a sustainable urban neighborhood where people want to live, work and gather.
New revenues will be required. A Revenue Team including elected officials, budget committee members, and citizen members will be formed this summer to evaluate funding options and make a recommendation to me. This information will come back to Council in late fall and will influence the second year of the biennium and beyond as we continue to stabilize all of our services long-term.
Our organization has a strong history of fiscal stewardship and commitment to making investments that improve the well-being of our community even during times of fiscal downturns. Some of those investments in 2023-2025 are in non-general funds:
- Airport fund is increasing staffing to support the increase in passenger traffic and to plan for a future expansion
- Road, wastewater, and stormwater funds are funding a team dedicated to camp abatement, clean up and land restoration in the right-of-way areas
- Community Development fund is investing in additional landbanking sites and low-income rental rehab units, both of which help the City reach five-year goals for housing implementation.
As we look to the future, I am excited that we are moving towards acquiring the Eugene Water and Electric Board Headquarters building as our new City Hall. It is also a fiscally responsible move that allows the City to live within our means.
The challenges of the last few years has necessitated a constant problem solving mindset. While that has allowed us to navigate and survive, it sometimes results in a focus on what’s wrong or not fixed or what we could do better.
I hope we can also look up and see the things that have been big successes along the way: the Downtown Riverfront Festival. Seeing the community connect, celebrate and welcome the world to our downtown was filled with inspiration and joy.
Our new normal will be this and that: We’ll solve difficult problems that seem intractable, and we’ll also provide places and programs for the community to gather and celebrate. We will continue to stay flexible and adaptable and expect changes to come rapidly.
At the core of our success is our Eugene team of employees, elected officials and community volunteers who have gained a level of experience and resiliency that gives me confidence we can manage and navigate our way to a bright future. I don’t believe we could find a more committed, innovative or responsive team.