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Council kills plan to halt spending

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The White Salmon City Council has quashed an attempt to put a spending freeze into place.

A bid by council member Timi Keene to use the spending freeze to try to steer the city away from a possible budget deficit was rejected when no council member moved to second her motion.

Before her motion, Keene warned the council that the city's budget was in a dangerous situation.

"We still face the same budget concerns regarding our deficit," Keene said during the council's Aug. 20 meeting. "I suggest we curtail any spending at this time until we have answers about budgetary action we can take. I move we freeze the budget, with the exceptions listed on this letter."

In an Aug. 4 letter, Keene offered an eight-point plan that had as its centerpiece a recommendation putting "an immediate freeze on all spending," with 36 specific exceptions. Other points in her proposal included asking all department directors/managers to voluntarily waive their 2009 cost of living pay increase, and asking for a possible tax assessment on cellular phone services within the city.

In the Aug. 4 meeting, the council decided to table Keene's proposal until Aug. 20.

After Keene's motion was denied, Mayor David Poucher suggested that the council's budget committee review Keene's proposal for possible future action.

"It's appropriate to answer the questions Keene has raised," Poucher explained.

Council member Richard Marx asked Keene for a list of the portions of the budget that Keene proposed to freeze -- rather than just the 36 exceptions.

In an unexpected development after Keene's motion failed to gain support, White Salmon Clerk/Treasurer Lori Kreps -- who had earlier projected a $65,000 city budget deficit at the end of 2008 -- reported to the council that the budget no longer appeared to be so dire.

"Now I'm comfortable saying at the end of the year we'll be at zero, or maybe have a little money left. I think we're looking pretty good," Kreps said. "I'm projecting we won't be in deficit. The department heads are working really hard on this to curtail spending."

Mayor Poucher said some of the earlier budget estimates had been too conservative, and that was part of the reason for the turnaround.

"We estimated our revenues low, and our expenses high," Poucher said. "We've received more money coming in we hadn't included in our revenues."

Poucher added that although he wants budget projections to remain conservative, he expected there would be additional revenue that had not been anticipated.

For one example of where some unexpected revenue came in to the city, Poucher pointed out that BNSF Railway had sent the city a check for $5,000 to cover the city's firefighting expenses related to the Broughton Fire in 2007.

"We're looking very, very healthy," Poucher said on Monday. "We're looking at some other revenue streams out there that are going to come through."

In a related matter, Poucher apologized to the council and to the public for recently contracting with a local citizen, Bill Werst, to help with professional services.

"He was doing some organizational development," Poucher explained. "I authorized the deal by mistake. I thought if money was in the budget I could go ahead and spend the dollars, but later realized the council has to approve contracts."

During the Aug. 20 council session, Poucher asked the members to approve a total of $3,600 to complete an organizational plan for city staff.

"If the council won't approve that, I'd like the council to authorize the $1,975 already spent," Poucher said. "It was my mistake. It's a learning process, and I apologize. I ask for approval of the terms of the contract."

Council member Bob Landgren said he thought the contract would be helpful to the city.

"I've talked with city staff, and they all agree this program is helping them deal with the public on issues of water, and it's helping their interactions with citizens," Landgren said. "I think this is a good thing for the city."

Landgren added that the organizational efforts could help the city be more efficient, which could help the budget in the long run.

"We owe it to the citizens to be responsible," explained Landgren. "If we get into a certain quarter and are behind, we can tighten our belts."

Landgren made a motion to approve the full $3,600 contract, and the council voted to do so with a 4-1 vote. Council member Keene opposed.

"Not knowing where we are with the budget, I can't support this," she explained.


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