Florence City Council approves 2021-23 biennium budget

City to end COVID-19 state of emergency

June 9, 2021 — The Florence City Council was busy on Monday, June 7, with a scheduled council work session at 10:30, an executive session at 4 p.m. and a public hearing in conjunction with a city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Big topics for the day included reopening city facilities, the 2021-23 biennium budget, city business and the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce.

The morning work session was primarily held at the request of City Manager Erin Reynolds, who wanted to communicate and coordinate with council members the plan for the expected reopening of city offices and public meetings.

Reynolds reviewed the timeline and the changes in COVID-19 protocols since the initial onset of the pandemic before focusing on the need to consider extending the Emergency Declaration which the city has been operating under and which was due to expire on Tuesday, June 8.

“The emergency declaration that is in effect right now is your fourth extension. … As promised at your April council meeting on April 5, we want to have a discussion and make sure we receive feedback from you, as a council, before considering another extension or letting it expire, or talking about what’s next for the city,” Reynolds said.

She talked about Oregon Gov. Brown’s May 11 announcement that the state would terminate the county risk level framework once 70 percent of Oregon residents aged 18 and over were vaccinated against COVID-19.

“As a workplace in Oregon, we are beholding to OSHA, and OSHA has specific rules in place,” Reynolds said. “We are following those rules right now and we plan on following the risk framework as long as those rules are in effect.”

The single most important factor in returning to a more normal or pre-COVID lifestyle, not only in Florence, but across the state, is dependent on the state attaining that 70 percent vaccination rate.

Once Oregon reaches the 70 percent vaccination threshold, the state will not require masks and face coverings in almost all settings, with some exceptions following federal guidance, including airports, public transit, and health care settings. The governor has also asked Oregon OSHA to review its workplace rules and update them based on this decision.

Consistent with the governor’s decision, Oregon OSHA intends to repeal the basic face covering and physical distancing requirements of its COVID-19 rule when the state reaches 70 percent of its adults vaccinated against the virus with at least one dose.

It is also convening stakeholders to review its COVID-19 rules and to determine whether other provisions should be repealed. Oregon OSHA expects to begin those discussions next week.

Reynolds included the anticipated change in risk status into her discussion by sharing the preliminary aspects of her plan to reopen city functions.

“We will open physically our public buildings with transactional services being provided, and staff and elected officials will follow what we need to follow for workplace safety,” she said.

After Reynolds made her presentation and answered a few questions from council members, there was agreement that the emergency declaration would be allowed to expire. In its place, Reynolds and city staff will craft a COVID-19 recovery policy to present at the June 21 Florence City Council meeting. Aspects of that plan may include recommendations to continue virtual public meetings, holding public meetings in person and to modify or repeal the COVID-19 Code of Conduct.

Next, the afternoon council’s executive session, which was publicized as a discussion regarding labor negotiations, and was mentioned by Reynolds in the morning work session, was cancelled shortly before the meeting was to occur.

Then, at 5:30 p.m., the regularly scheduled council meeting was brought to order a few hours later by Mayor Joe Henry with a full agenda to consider.

The first order of business was a lengthy review of the work done by the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce given by Chamber President/CEO Bettina Hannigan and Chairman of the Board Neil Ecker.

The report is made on an annual basis to keep councilors informed on the many different ways the chamber works to bring visitors and businesses to the area. The two went through the work the city has contracted the chamber to do and included the various ways the organization has fulfilled its obligations to the community.

One of the most important points emphasized by Hannigan was the source of funding for Chamber activities comes from Transient Room Taxes (TRT), which come from visitors to this area and not from the residents of Florence.

The chamber’s presentation included data on the number of website visits potential visitors make and other important metrics which show more than four million cars pass by the newly renovated Florence Visitors Center each year. Additionally, the chamber is working on a number of popular programs, such as the Flower Basket Program and the recently approved Banner Program, which will provide colorful thematic banners to be mounted on public utility poles throughout town.

Following this, public comments related to non-agenda items were offered by local climate activist Michael Allen, who continues to urge city officials, either elected or hired, to create some manner of climate action plan, and Mark Baker, who also has surfaced as a consistent voice on the need for a climate change policy.

Allen encouraged the council to consider recent Guest Viewpoints and Letters to the Editor in the Siuslaw News, where a debate is ongoing around climate change and what — if anything — the city can do about it.

As the agenda progressed, the most notable item considered and eventually approved unanimously was the City of Florence Fiscal Biennium 2021-23 Budget, which would take effect on July 1, 2021, and fund city operations until June 30, 2023.

The materials accompanying the final budget proposal was extensive and compiled by the senior staff from all city departments.

The Budget Committee, which works with city staff to create a plan to operate and improve city functions, includes the mayor, city councilors Bill Meyer, City Councilor Sally Wantz, Maggie Wisniewski and Woody Woodbury, and community members Jeff Archambeau, Ron Hildenbrand, Brittany Hornung, Leonard Larson and Marks.

The Budget Committee received the proposed budget on May 5, 2021. The committee then held public meetings on May 5, 10 and 12, with city staff making presentations and addressing questions. The committee approved the proposed budget at its final meeting and then forwarded it to the Florence City Council for adoption consideration.

The two-year budget calls for expenditures of $62.6 million with a contingency of $9.3 million.

Reynolds was again the facilitator for this involved subject including the following statement provided in the information given to councilors and the public.

“The City of Florence’s proposed budget has been prepared pursuant to Oregon Local Budget Law. This budget totals $71.9 million for the biennium and is balanced. The General Fund budget for the biennium is $18.3 million. For comparison, the previous fiscal biennium budget was $65.2 million, with $16.3 million for the General Fund. Total current resources (excluding beginning fund balance) in the proposed budget for all City funds are $65.2 million representing a 19 percent increase as compared to the previous biennium’s budget,” Reynolds said. “Current expenditures (excluding ending fund balance) total $62.6 million, an increase of 5.39 percent. All the funds meet their targets for financial reserves except the FEC Fund, which was the City’s hardest hit operation from the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and events.”

Reynolds also reported that revenues impacted by COVID are expected to return to normal levels by the fall. In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is a source of funding that was and will continue to be a cushion to help the city absorb and rebound from the financial damages inflicted by COVID-19.

“Thanks in part to the ARPA funds and expected infrastructure federal and state grant funds, the proposed budget presents an optimistic recovery from the fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reynolds said. “There is always some degree of uncertainty for any budget, and even more so during a global pandemic. For now, the future post-pandemic fiscal biennium looks positive, and as a result, we propose a stable and balanced budget.”

The US Treasury is still developing detailed guidance for ARPA. The City of Florence is expecting to receive $1.8 million from the fund, split into two rounds. The city expects the first installment by June 2021, and the second within the year.

“With this level of certainty, the proposed budget contains a new special revenue fund, the ARPA Fund,” Reynolds said.

As the council has been involved with creating and overseeing the current budget, there were few questions for Reynolds from councilors regarding the final proposal and it was approved unanimously.

Further in the evening’s agenda, the council approved Ordinance 9, Series 2021, which authorized a right-of-way petition on 20th Street.

There were also two public hearings to allow citizens to have input on how the city uses its state shared revenues. The council then passed related Resolutions No. 17 and No 18, Series 2021, which were required by the state to receive those revenues.

During the rest of the meeting, the council also approved an extension of the System Development Charge Exemption and Deferral Process, Ordinance No. 10, Series 2021, which Public Works Director Mike Miller recommended.

Miller highlighted the increase in the number of building permits which have been issued since the program was instituted, particularly in the category of smaller, more affordable housing. His recommendation to approve was successful, with only Wisniewski voting to end the current development exemption and deferral process.

The council also approved the evening’s consent agenda, which authorized Public Works to accept a proposal from Wildish Construction Company for $98,365 to replace the 31st Street Culvert and a proposal from Cascade Civil Corporation in the amount of $583,996 for work on the Safe Routes to School improvement project on Oak Street.

Administrative Services Director Anne Baker also reviewed the city’s financial for the first quarter of the year which remain on track relative to projections, despite COVID related delays.

The final component of the meeting was the City Manger Report, where Reynolds shared her surprise at the rapidity with which the return to a more pre-COVID state of affairs was occurring. She also thanked her team for their dedication and for the work done to create the biennium budget.

The next Florence City Council meeting is scheduled for June 21 at 5:30 p.m.

For more information, visit ci.florence.or.us.