The budget committee approved the fiscal year 2019/2020 budget for the City of St. Helens on Monday, April 22. The budget will be officially adopted after a public hearing and then a final approval by the St. Helens City Council in May.
The budget includes the 2019/2020 property tax rate, which will be $1.9078 per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to the item listed in the Budget Committee meeting agenda. This is similar to previous years’ property tax rates.
Most changes to the budget include new positions, added at the request of different departments.
Matt Brown, Finance Director for the City of St. Helens, gave a presentation on funding requests that were an increase from the previous year at a City Council regular session meeting on April 17.
One of the requests that was granted was for a new position of Development Coordinator. This position falls under many departments: administration, building, planning, and engineering. The position will be funded from several different funds: Enterprise Funds, Community Development Fund, Building, and Planning, according to a document from the Budget Committee.
Brown said the City added the position in response to remarks from residents about the difficulty of securing building permits.
“We’ve gotten a lot of complaints over the last several years about people being upset with how long it takes to get a permit or not understanding the process,” Brown said. “That person is put in there to kind of help whoever it is that’s requesting some kind of building permit to help them kind of navigate the process and the terminology and kind of figure out where things go.”
Brown said approximately $75,000 has been earmarked for that position, but he and John Walsh, City Administrator, will discuss the specifics of the salary at a later date.
Two positions have also been added for the St. Helens Recreation Center. However, both are contingent on revenue that has not yet been guaranteed: the proposed $2 recreation fee added to the utility bill, and a $99,000 grant coming in the summer, according to Brown. If both those funds are realized, there will be a full-time recreation coordinator, budgeted at $54,000, and a part-time recreation center lead, at $12,000.
One request that was discussed in depth was from the St. Helens Police Department (SHPD), which requested four additional positions: three patrol officers, and a sergeant. The final decision from City Council was to add one patrol officer and one sergeant, which will be promoted from within existing patrol officers.
Other requests were also granted to SHPD: a full-time records specialist, which was added at last year’s budget meetings as a part-time position, as well as funds for other materials and supplies.
One request that councilors debated at length before ultimately denying was a request for a new position of GIS Technology Engineer. The request came from Sue Nelson, Public Works Engineering Director. While Nelson was not present at the Wednesday night meeting, Brown and John Walsh, City Administrator, relayed some of her information regarding the potential new position.
Brown said that budget-wise, the position would take the place of a former staffer who had since retired. However, the former staffer was a part-time employee, and Nelson wanted a full-time employee to take over the new position. The potential position would be an $80,000 increase from Enterprise Funds.
Walsh said the new position would relieve some City staff, such as Nelson, Jacob Graichen and Jenny Dimsho of the planning department, of additional burdens.
After discussion on the Council, councilors decided to forgo the additional position. Councilor Keith Locke said he wanted to eventually reinstate the Superintendent of Public Works, a position that was cut from the department a few years ago. Douglas Morten suggested that, since Neal Sheppeard, Public Works Engineering Director, is retiring soon, it would be beneficial to wait until the hierarchy of Public Works was put in place before deciding on another position.
Another request that was approved came from the City Council itself, to increase council discretionary funds, which increased from $10,000 to $30,000. These funds allow the Council to grant at their discretion to any group who requests them, often a non-profit organization, Brown said by in-person interview.
Brown also said the increase is more in line with how much the discretionary fund has generally been.
“It was probably about $80- or $90,000 at one point in history,” Brown said. “Now we’re getting to the point where we can afford to do a little bit more.”
The public hearing before final budget adoption will be at a later date in May.