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White Salmon OKs 2009 budget

Decision not unanimous

Although the decision was not unanimous, the White Salmon City Council approved a budget for 2009 during its Dec. 17 meeting.

The main sticking point seemed to revolve around the need for the city to make an inter-fund loan to itself to balance everything out.

"We are anticipating an inter-fund loan, because it's going to be tight next year," said Lori Kreps, White Salmon's clerk-treasurer.

However, Kreps pointed out that there is a chance the loan won't be needed.

"For example, our budget does not include the EDA grant from the county, and we're pretty sure we're going to get that. But we can't put it in our budget until we get it," Kreps explained. "We've been really conservative: we underestimated revenues and overestimated expenditures."

Kreps said the loan, if needed, is expected to be about $61,000.

"We won't do that until we actually need it," she said. "We have revenues that will be coming in but we can't count those yet."

Overall for 2009, the city will have a $6.3 million budget, with total revenues of $3,469,202 projected, and total expenditures projected to be $3,444,982.

According to Kreps, the city's revenue will be down by a projected $100,000 in 2009.

"And as far as what we're spending, there will be $500,000 less in expenses in 2009 compared to 2008," she added. "We've been relentless in telling people `No' -- we're down to the bare bones as far as expenses for next year -- except for the Buck Creek water project. Next year is going to be tough. We are cutting everything we can."

One of the big cuts hit Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker of the White Salmon Fire Department. Hunsaker, who has served as fire chief for the past three years, was required to drop his salary as fire chief from $15,000 to $5,000.

Hunsaker told the council at the Dec. 17 meeting that he was willing to take the cut in his salary, but questioned the council's priorities.

Hunsaker was not able to attend the Budget Committee meeting in which his salary was discussed, and he took issue with some of what was said at that meeting.

"I don't think the Budget Committee should be allowed to talk about an employee when he is not there. Some things were said that were not appropriate and not true," Hunsaker explained. "I've worked hard for this city, and some of the comments indicated they didn't think I had earned my wages. I have definitely earned my wages."

Hunsaker added that he believes White Salmon needs a salaried fire chief.

"It's a very big job," Hunsaker said. "You need a person with experience and not just a volunteer. This council should be ashamed of itself for the little amount of money it's willing to spend on the Fire Department."

Shirley Cox, chair of the city's Budget Committee, urged the council to adopt the 2009 budget.

"At the last Budget Committee meeting we approved sending this to the council for final approval. It's not perfect, and there are a lot of concerns we have," Cox said. "But we think the city staff and our workers have done a really good job. If we stick with this budget, we won't have quite as many problems as we have had in the past."

Cox noted that funding the swimming pool is one of the reasons the city has a deficit.

"We are running a $30,000-$40,0000 deficit from that, and we need to find other partners to help fund the pool," Cox said. "The pool is more than 50 percent of our deficit. The pool does not cover itself for fees. It's a service we provide that doesn't pay for itself."

As one solution to cover the cost of providing the pool, city officials and volunteers are working to create a parks and recreation district that would pull in funds from other jurisdictions.

The council members voted 4-1 to approve the 2009 budget. Council members Brad Roberts, Leana Johnson, Bob Landgren, and Mark Peppel voted in favor of approving the budget. Council member Richard Marx voted against it.

"They have no idea what's going on with the budget. Five hours before the council meeting I got a copy of the budget, then 45 minutes before the meeting I got a copy with a different number," Marx said. "I have news for the mayor -- I'm not voting `Yes' for an inter-fund loan."

Although he supported the budget, Peppel complained that some budget figures were altered very late in the process.

"Getting things an hour before the meeting, it's hard to make an honest judgment," Peppel said. "Regardless of whether the Budget Committee approves it, we still have to understand it."

Kreps said she was satisfied that the budget is solid and will keep the city on sound financial footing.

"I'm real happy with the vote," Kreps said. "If this had not been passed, we would have been going back to the drawing board. But it's going to be a real tough year."


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