Bend’s budget rebounds after pandemic cuts – OPB News

bend’s-budget-rebounds-after-pandemic-cuts-–-opb-news

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Outside Bend City Hall.

Outside Bend City Hall.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra / OPB

The City of Bend is emerging from pandemic cutbacks on solid financial footing, padded by increased property values, the revival of tourism and millions in federal aid, according to city leaders.

On Wednesday, the City Council adopted a budget that ends a year-long hiring freeze on more than 30 vacant positions, and funds growth in most departments. The budget forecasts revenue from tax assessed properties will go up around 5% by 2023.

“Property taxes primarily fund police, fire, and street maintenance services,” City Manager Eric King wrote in a memo.

He expects occupancy taxes on hotel rooms and vacation rentals to surge by double digits this year. In 2022, a voter-approved property tax increase also rolls out, backing $24 million in long term debt for transportation projects.

For the city’s customers, fees will go up. A 5% increase for system development charges more than doubles the increase approved by the City Council last year.

Systemic development charges, or SDCs, help fund roads, waterlines and sewers. With construction costs surging, it’s more expensive to build public infrastructure to suit population growth, said Bend’s Chief Financial Officer Sharon Wojda.

“As more people relocate to Bend, we have higher demands on the system,” Wodja said. “Those SDC revenues are our funding source to pay for the infrastructure that we’re putting in the system.”

The city can waive SDC charges for certain affordable housing projects with deed restrictions.

The city projects $395 million in operating revenue, and less than a third — some $124 million — is in a discretionary general fund. Most of this pays for public safety, according to King’s budget message to councilors.

The Bend Police Department’s $27.4 million operating budget represents a 12% increase over last year, including six new full time positions.

The city’s Private Development Engineering Department will see significant investment, including two full time positions.

The budget creates a fund for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, another for sustainability, and a new fund dedicated to collecting the commercial and industrial construction tax.

Last year, Bend voters elected a slate of four city councilors who campaigned on progressive platforms, and now hold a majority in making decisions about city financing.

The $919 million budget sets aside around $3 million to support this council’s specific goals, such as: “housing supply, transportation improvements, effective City government ... equity, justice, environmental stewardship and addressing homelessness,” according to the city’s website.

“We know we have a lot of work to do, and we are asking the community to hold us accountable to these goals,” Mayor Pro Tem Gena Goodman-Campbell wrote of the goal-setting process.

The council has yet to decide how to spend $14 million in federal funding allocated to Bend through the American Rescue Plan, which was not included in the city budget adopted this week.

The council is expected to begin workshopping a supplemental budget for those funds next month.

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