Time for city to entertain conversation about taxes
The city of McMinnville managed to ride out the Great Recession of 2008-12 without either gutting services or raiding wallets. Its secret was simple — being frugal.
Both the city and its utility partner, McMinnville Water & Light, have lengthy records of restrained and responsible fiscal stewardship. When times get tough, as they did with the great economic collapse of late 2008, that prudence pays off.
To its credit, the city resisted the temptation of robbing Peter tomorrow so they can pay Paul today. They didn’t put off tough choices or shirk obligations.
But there’s only so much you can do to continue holding the line in the face of declining revenues. That’s particularly true when your state and federal partners are playing the same game the same way.
As the old saying goes, stated delicately here, effluent flows downhill. And the city lies at the bottom of the government hierarchy.
If Washington fails to fund Medicare to the point where it can manage even marginally realistic reimbursement, the rubber meets the road when the ambulance leaves the station. That would, of course, be the city ambulance.
One of local government’s last resorts is raising rates, but that’s futile here. The claims are concentrated with Medicare, so raising rates serves only to increase the portion Medicare writes off. It just enlarges the unpaid part of the bill, but not the paid part.
If the Legislature fails to rein in an obscenely generous and ultimately unsupportable Public Employee Retirement System, the rubber meets the road when the payroll is met. That would, of course, be the city payroll.
Soaring state PERS costs translate into soaring city payroll costs, with no relief in sight. The only effective counter is laying off enough workers to restore balance, and that inevitably means cutting core services, as unwise as it is unpopular.
One could only wish the city’s state and federal counterparts operated equally wisely and frugally, and that the voters gave them a mandate to that end. However, it’s not the case, so we stand where we stand.
The city has been trimming costs, cutting staff, raising fees, emphasizing efficiency, eliminating waste and pushing out its planning three to five years. Even in bad times, it’s been holding a bit in reserve while continuing to invest in the future whenever possible.
Maintaining that cushion is becoming more and more difficult. So one of the city’s goals for the coming year is opening a dialogue with constituents about floating a local option levy. That would raise taxes, should voters consent.
The cynics among us, no doubt, will assume the worst — that a deal has already been cut in a darkened room, that the fix is in. But the truth is, the city governs openly, and only with the consent of the governed.
The choice, ultimately, is ours — we’ll either pay more or get less.
We concur with the city reasoning. It’s time to begin the conversation.