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Independence Spared From Severe Cutbacks

Town once again bucks the trend

INDEPENDENCE -- Unlike many Oregon cities, Independence won't be cutting back services to its residents this fiscal year.

Like other cities, the general fund is falling short, but the gap will be filled using carryover amounts and transfers to keep services and operations at status quo, said City Manager Greg Ellis.

Police, library, parks and other services are buoyed by a strong building and development trend reflected in the $10 million budget.

Independence joins other Oregon cities in struggling to keep up with meeting the demands of PERS, which are increasing at alarming rates, Ellis said. Latest estimates are in the 17 percent range for health insurance, he said, adding that he is exploring alternatives that will provide equal insurance at a lower price.

Due to labor negotiations, it's diffcult to estimate what labor costs will be with much precision, but wages are expected to increase about 2.5 percent for cost of living adjustments, Ellis said. Merit step increases are also in the budget.

Property taxes are projected to stay the same, while franchise fees will increase almost seven percent due to a hike approved by the city council. Franchise fees are charged to utilities for their use of a city's right of way. Independence carries agreements with Qwest, Sprint, Brandt Sanitary, Charter Communications, Pacificorp, NW Natural, and a water/sewer allocation.

Continued healthy building activity should beef the budget up a bit due to license and permit fees, which include development inspection fees, liquor license fees and dog licenses, among others.

Police services will also remain at current levels despite decreased funding from several sources, including the Central School District and Federal Police Corps program.

Expenditures are expected to decrease significantly now that the Hoffman Road project is completed, Ellis said.

The upcoming year will be the first year taxes are levied for the Independence Urban Renewal District. According to estimates from the Polk County Assessor's Office, the district has experienced $1,486,000 in growth from its frozen base value.

The assessor estimates this will bring in about $29,000 in tax revenues for fiscal year 2003-04. Additionally, Ellis has been asked by the city council to look at buying property located in the Urban Growth Boundary using economic development funds.

Requirements for the Urban Renewal District include repayment of a Community Incentive Fund loan granted for building the Independence Public Library.

The loan made by the Independence economic development fund would require repayment at terms of 3 percent over 15 years.

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