Wednesday, August 7, 2013/lk
When I was first elected to the Hood River City Council in 2006, our city was in crisis. Our finances were terrible — the city’s three major operating funds were more than $1 million in the red, and the central part of the plan to fix them was to keep increasing water and sewer rates.
I ran for mayor promising to ask hard questions, do my homework, and propose solutions. You’ve shown your confidence by electing me four times, and I believe I’ve done what I promised.
I know there have been questions lately about the appropriate role of the mayor and the city council. The simple answer is that under the Hood River city charter, the mayor and council set policy for the city, and then oversee the city manager as he or she implements that policy. Much of the time, setting policy means approving the city manager’s recommendations, and oversight means reading reports.
But the mayor and council are not ceremonial jobs. We can say “no.” We can play a more active role if circumstances call for it. If we don’t think the options we’ve been given are in the best interest of the city, we can say “none of the above” and propose our own solutions.
To address our city’s financial crisis, the council and I chose to take a more active role than we’ve seen before. For example, I proposed a new budget policy, and worked with staff, budget committee and council to develop a new action plan.
It worked. In the past six years we’ve gone from a deficit to reserves of almost $8 million, without major increases in taxes or fees.
I’m extremely proud of the city council, the budget committee and most of all, our staff, for achieving these results. In the shadow of a nationwide economic recession, we calmly and effectively climbed out of a deep hole. We avoided fiscal chaos. We identified the problems and we fixed them.
Our city’s fiscal health is now strong. We have solid reserves, we have timely and trustworthy reporting, and we have a talented, professional staff who live within their department budgets year-in and year-out. We have a dedicated council and budget committee who make sure we maintain fiscal discipline, and don’t use those very tempting reserves for pet projects. Taxes and rates are under control, and city services are being delivered efficiently and effectively.
The piece that remains is to put a strong city manager in place, one who will confidently steer the city under policy set by the council. We are in an excellent position to attract a top candidate to that job, far better than we were 10 years ago. Hood River is a phenomenal place to live, the city’s economy is strong, the city’s fiscal house is in order and we have the best staff in city history led by strong, seasoned department heads.
Government can be messy and difficult. But in the end, Hood River is working. In fact, it is thriving. With a strong staff and an engaged citizenry, we can work together to keep the city on the right track.