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Tom Augustine gives council proposal to reduce General Fund deficit

By: Carol Feineman, News Messenger Editor
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While the General Fund deficit has varied from $1.7 to $2.7 million this fiscal year, according to city of Lincoln staff, there could be quick fixes to the deficit. That’s if 10-year Lincoln Hills resident Tom Augustine’s cost reduction proposal is considered by the city. Augustine came up with a budget deficit reduction proposal that he estimates could save a total of approximately $1,247,000 in the General Fund. The Lincoln Hills resident presented the proposal at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. After he spoke about it during the public comment portion of the meeting, Augustine gave the city clerk copies to give to city staff and council members. One of Augustine’s proposal items is to freeze the positions of the recreation director and human resources director. Those positions were vacated last October. By not filling those two positions, Augustine pointed out, there would be approximately $260,000 saved in the 2011/12 budget. And that could easily save two police positions. However, on Dec. 13, Mandy Walker was hired back part time at an undetermined amount of hours as the city’s assistant director of recreation at $44.88 an hour. Another of Augustine’s items is to eliminate the position of economic and redevelopment manager. That would create a savings of approximately $127,000 per year. Coincidentally, that position is vacant as Steve Art leaves that position, effective Friday. This would make it easy for city staff to not have to lay off a current employee. Augustine doesn’t know whether council will look at his proposal. "I don’t think anything will happen when City Council hears my proposal Tuesday," Augustine said Sunday. "They’ll say thank you but we’re have to see in future City Council meetings if they’ll consider it. Past experience doesn’t give me much confidence." For the past year, Augustine, an almost-10-year Lincoln Hills resident and retired Oregon Credit Union Association president, has studied city of Lincoln’s online financial statements and periodically requested information from Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak. Augustine is among the Team Lincoln members trying to find solutions to the fund that pays for police, fire, library, and parks and recreation services. "About 10 of us started talking about city issues last year," Augustine said," when we saw city services dropping and jobs being cut. We didn’t realize the city was as bloated as it was. That’s how Team Lincoln got started. We’d look at one thing and something else would pop up. We were ignored by the city. When you ask questions, you should get answers. I’ve said it at council meetings that we all bear some of this responsibility. We didn’t bear responsibility in this city until last year when we saw all these changes taking place." Last fall, Augustine developed a plan that some Team Lincoln members called the "Augustine Plan." "Measure K was so convoluted and complicated. I thought there was a simpler way to generate revenue for the General Fund," Augustine said. "My plan accessed a utility tax on utilities offered by the city. In that way, you don’t have to implement any internal system to acquire the money. Make the tax equal for every resident and business. Four dollars per utility, $12 a month, would have generated over $2 million.” But city staff did not consider it, according to previous News Messenger reports. Augustine, however, keeps working on ways to reduce the General Fund deficit. After attending the city’s Oct. 26 special budget meeting a few days before Measure K’s fate would be decided, Augustine reexamined city financial documents to find what other cost-reduction actions could be done that wouldn’t create a hardship for the city. Those actions are in the plan he handed to the city clerk Tuesday. Hopefully, the council will consider Augustine’s proposal items. The proposal could immediately fix some of the General Fund budget deficit. “I welcome any and all opportunities, offers and propositions to save the city money,” said Councilman Gabriel Hydrick. “I will look at why it will work and not why it won’t work. I look forward to hearing what Tom has brought forth to City Council because, per my experience, he is thorough, intelligent and experienced. He’s analytical and he’s trying to think outside the box.” Councilman Stan Nader also wants to read Augustine’s plan. “I absolutely plan on looking at it,” Nader said. “Anyone who comes forth with an idea should be considered.’