Warrenton is feeling the pinch of a tight budget, but hopes to address deferred repairs to City Hall.
City Manager Linda Engbretson had hoped to put off the replacement of an aging roof at the municipal complex on Main Avenue that houses city departments and services, including the police and fire departments. But then a substantial leak opened up over the Community and Economic Development Department in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, she asked the City Commission to formally declare that an emergency exists at City Hall to free up funds from this year’s budget to make partial repairs to the roof.
“I am not comfortable putting this off further as a wet spring could create a safety and much more costly issues,” Engbretson wrote in a memo to commissioners.
Warrenton has operated under a $26.7 million spending plan for the fiscal year that ends in June. The city has had to factor in the rising costs of the Public Employees Retirement System, as well as growing demands for city services with a small staff and aging infrastructure. Money is scant for building maintenance.
Instead of putting aside money into a building maintenance fund over the years, “we’ve chosen to purchase police vehicles or fund other general fund services,” Engbretson told commissioners. “So we’ve had to make these hard decisions over the years and this is where we’re at.”
It would cost an estimated $140,000 to fix the entire roof. Engbretson and her staff, concerned about being able to fully fund the repairs because of general fund constraints, suggested repairing only a portion of the roof this year for $47,000.
But Commissioner Mark Baldwin argued the city should take the financial hit and go ahead and repair the entire roof now to save money and resources in the long run. Mayor Henry Balensifer agreed, although he acknowledged it would mean more hard choices when it comes to balancing the budget.
“Here’s how I see it,” Balensifer said. “If we don’t fix the roof now or we fix only half of it and then, if the costs and damage continues to compound, we’ll end up becoming like the Port of Astoria and we’ll be chasing our tails this entire time. It’s just going to be a debt we can’t repay ourselves.”
The Port of Astoria faces millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance.
“The building in general, it’s been well-loved,” Balensifer said of City Hall. “And it’s going to continue to be even more well-loved as the needs of the citizens grow and the space and staff don’t.”
The City Commission voted in favor of declaring the emergency, but Engbretson and city staff will look into options for the roof.
Budget constraints surfaced again Tuesday during a discussion about the possibility of forming a Parks, Recreation and Marina Department. Commissioner Pam Ackley and others said a formal department or district might help in the pursuit of grants and other funding for larger projects like the construction of a fishing pier at the Hammond Marina.
It’s a good discussion, Engbretson said, but for now, city departments and boards will continue to work collaboratively to find funding.
“This brings up a good question,” Balensifer said, referencing projects like the City Hall roof, which are hampered by the general fund.
“I’ve thought that with hard times and with no relief really in early sight or at least close sight that we should probably consider looking at what services or what departments may not be better ... off in their own districts or consolidation within (Clatsop County),” he said.
“The discussion should probably occur at some point,” he added, “because at some point our permanent tax rate just isn’t going to do it. It just won’t. ... We’re going to have to figure out more creative ways than just rate increases to fund these departments going into the future.”
“It’s just sad that we are the fastest growing city and we are broke,” Ackley said.
“Not broke,” Baldwin rejoined, “we’re just poor.”
In some ways, Balensifer said, it feels like “growth is strangling the city.”