After 14 years of borrowing from our state-mandated reserve, the City of Gresham finds itself in a shortfall. We’ll find our way back together, but we can’t continue to do so at the expense of our community’s most vulnerable.
I’ll cut right to the chase: I voted no on the city’s proposed budget because it unfairly puts the burden of filling a $13.3MM hole right on YOU. How? By charging higher fees.
I believe we need to readjust our priorities to fill that hole, not impose fees on people who are already struggling to pay their bills.
When I joined the city council in 2019, I took a close look at the city’s budget.
What I found was troubling. Former Mayor Shane Bemis had been overspending for years. He and past councils repeatedly dipped into the city’s reserve and now, when we’re in a real crisis, there is a shortage instead.
I am working alongside other council members to fix this deficit, end wasteful overspending, and replenish our rainy day fund.
Here’s a little background on how I will put us on a better course.
Background on the City of Gresham Budget
Gresham has an operating budget called the ‘general fund’ to pay for services ranging from filling in potholes to community development projects. Part of the general fund is reserved for services that are especially important: police, fire/EMS, and parks. This special group of three critical services make up the bulk of the city’s expenses. Here’s a view from our city manager of what our budget looks like:
The city pays for all of this by collecting taxes (such as property taxes or business income taxes), and by collecting fees (such as utility fees called the Police, Fire and Parks Fee).
Add in the financial hit due to COVID, and the result is a $13.3M shortfall in the city budget. We must fill the gap to avoid cutting important services like our fire department, parks program, and community development
Filling Gresham’s Deficit Without Regressive Fees.
We need to balance the budget. Moving forward, instead of raising fees that hit most financially vulnerable among us, we need to look at existing spending and cut costs.
- Institute a city-wide spending freeze on non-essential spending.
- Review the city budget to find common-sense places we can cut. For example, the Chamber of Commerce has $100,000 allocated to promote tourism, but they cannot show how the money is being spent or if they are effective.
- Engage an independent auditor to ensure that we know how the general fund is being spent, and how much bang for our buck we are getting.
- Begin exploring more sustainable ways of funding critical services such as a fire district, which the Firefighters Union support, and a parks and recreation district.
In general I support taxes as opposed to fees. Fees hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Taxes allocate the burden of shortfalls more equitably. Additionally, some taxpayers are able to write off taxes. That’s why I didn’t vote for the increase in fees and taxes on working people in Gresham. It doubles the utility fee that Gresham residents pay to almost $200 per year!
We must explore new sources of revenue and cost sharing strategies that get us better service for the City of Gresham through economies of scale in the region.
If you want to learn more about the budget crisis in Gresham, here are a few good resources.
- The city’s website explains the crisis, and shares what we have done so far to help.
- This article in the Gresham Outlook goes deep on the history of mismanagement that led us to this spot.
- Gresham is not alone. This article talks about how this is happening to cities across the country.