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If Voters Say No, Will Services Go?

Eugene voters have been told critical services are on the chopping block if Eugene’s proposed city services fee fails the May 21 ballot, including some of Eugene’s most popular: one of two CAHOOTS vans, funding for the Buckley House sobering station, funding for library services and the Sheldon Pool, a fire crew in the Whiteaker neighborhood and the Looking Glass Station 7. But is it true? Fee supporters and opponents disagree on whether the services will be cut if the fee is voted down.

“It’s not like the sequester at the federal level,” in which funding went away automatically and across the board, and fee supporter and City Councilor Claire Syrett says. “The fact is that if we don’t find new revenue, we will have to make cuts.”

If the fee fails, City Manager Jon Ruiz will present the city’s Budget Committee with a budget that does not include funding for the services listed in the City Council resolution that put the fee on the ballot. The Budget Committee, which is made of eight city councilors and eight citizens, will deliberate and make changes to the proposed budget. Ruiz estimates that general fund revenue will fall short by about $5.9 million in the next fiscal year. Councilors Chris Pryor and Alan Zelenka have stated that to keep their word, they’ll vote against funding the services if the fee fails.

Syrett says she hasn’t made the same commitment; she says she might try to ease the burden on lost human services while still standing with Zelenka and Pryor. “I don’t see how we would patch the gap,” she says, and even if the committee didn’t cut the particular services listed for fiscal year 2014, it would be other services that would be cut.

Bonny Bettman McCornack, campaign manager for fee opposition group CiTJAW (Citizens for Truth, Justice and the American Way) and a former city councilor, says that her group unequivocally supports the services slated for cuts, and there’s money in the city’s budget to preserve them. One problem with the city’s budget, she says, is that it’s using general fund revenue for one-time capital improvement projects like saving for a new City Hall — instead of asking citizens to approve a bond scaled down from the $188 million proposal that polled poorly in 2007.

Using General Fund revenue meant for public services on a big capital improvement project is a bad public precedent, Bettman McCornack says, and right now there’s about $11 million in funds for City Hall. “That $11 million came from the general fund, $1.5 million as recently as December 2012, while they were planning the new tax, and the council can put it right back to fund the threatened services,” she says.

Bettman McCornack says that it’s logical to connect funding for a new City Hall and the General Fund. “They will either use the new fee revenue to pay for it or they will use the new fee revenue to pay for current General Fund services and then use the revenue freed up in the General Fund to pay for the new building. It is a very poor precedent to pay for large capital projects with general fund revenue meant to provide essential public services. 

Councilor Mike Clark wants to sell the Laurelwood Golf Course and has suggested other sources of revenue. In an EW viewpoint, Councilor George Brown suggested looking at end-of-year balances, funding for the Riverfront Urban Renewal District, money spent on visioning and economic development and the Reserve for Revenue Shortfall fund balance.

Syrett says she supports an intensive look at the city’s budget, but she doesn’t think the long process can be completed by June, in time to save the services.