Medford delays street, park work to cut costs

The city of Medford won't fill 10 staff vacancies, and some street and park projects could be delayed as a part of the city's $225.7 million preliminary biennial budget, city officials said.

The cost-cutting measures are the results of a lower-than-expected property tax collection rate and a slump in development.

"It's a balanced budget," said city Finance Director Alison Chan, who was charged with the task of pulling the proposal together. "It's not overly pessimistic and not overly optimistic I tried to be as reasonable as I could because if I am overly conservative I'm not going to project the revenue and potentially cut programs that didn't need to be cut. The flip side is if I'm overly optimistic, we won't have the funds for the programs. I tried to be realistic.

"That was challenging," she said, "because always in the past the revenue were more predictable, but they weren't as predictable this time."

A public hearing on the proposed budget, which covers the period from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011, is set for 6 p.m. today in Rooms 127 and 129 at the Higher Education Center, 101 S. Bartlett St.

For the first time, the city has posted the budget document on its Web site,, for public viewing. Copies also are available at the city Finance Department, 451 Sixth St. in Medford.

The overall $225.7 million budget includes a $16.2 million contingency fund, which would cover three months' operating expenses for emergencies.

The budget committee, which includes the mayor, all eight City Council members and nine community members, has the option to add an additional $23.8 million in available funds to the budget. But most of those funds are restricted in how they can be spent.

Like other government agencies across the state, the city has experienced a dip in property tax collection, which provides about 59 percent of the general fund budget. The collection rate dropped from about 97 percent in past years to a low of 93 percent this year, City Manager Michael Dyal said in his biennial budget message. The proposed budget anticipates a collection rate of 93 percent, which means the city would not collect about $1.2 million in owed taxes in the next biennium.

Leaving 10 positions vacant in planning, dispatch, municipal court and the building department will save the city about $1.5 million over two years, Dyal said.

"Given the economy, we don't see the planning department (which approves applications for construction) needing the staff, and we don't have the money," Chan said.

Some projects also will likely have to be delayed in the next two years to keep the budget balanced, officials said.

For instance, a project to stabilize the slopes on and along Hillcrest Road, which has cracked and slipped in recent years, has been postponed indefinitely, said Public Works Director Cory Crebbin.

"We've been assured that there is no risk of catastrophic failure at this time, but there is slow slope creeping that we need to do something about," Crebbin said.

The Parks and Recreation Department is uncertain whether it will have funding to start on another planned park, Oregon Hills Park, at East McAndrews Road and Chablis Terrace, said Brian Sjothun, parks director.

Some projects that will move forward include the realignment of Table Rock and Merriman roads with the addition of a traffic signal, at a cost of $919,000; the extension of Garfield Street, from Peach Street to King Street, $1.2 million; and the alignment of Highway 62 at Owen and Coker Butte roads and the extension of Owen to Springbrook Road, $8.7 million. The Highway 62 project is largely funded by the state, with the city contributing about $1 million of the total project cost.

The budget also is expected to support continued expansion at the U.S. Cellular Community Sports Park. The parks department has requested $400,000 to add three baseball-softball fields and an activities pavilion.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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