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The council granted the final community grant to the West Linn Community Preschool

COURTESY PHOTO - The council adopted the 2020-21 biennial budget and ammended Council Rules at a meeting June 24. The West Linn City Council adopted the City's biennial budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 at Monday night's council meeting June 24. The council, City staff and the Citizens Budget Committee have worked toward this budget adoption for several months, but this doesn't mean the City's revenues and expenditures for the next two fiscal years are set in stone. If necessary, budget line items can still be rearranged within different funds.

The budget has been hashed out so many times in recent months, every detail deliberated, that there were no real surprises or arguments during Monday's adoption.

When it was noted in the master fees and charges portion of the budget that some fees for West Linn citizens will raise in the next two years and others will go down, Councilor Jules Walters reminded citizens of the City's Low Income Assistance program that offers reduced utility rates to residents who apply and qualify.

After the budget was adopted, finance department staff told the council that $1,350 of community grant funds remained unallocated. The Citizens Budget Committee had already granted $23,650 to several community organizations that applied for grants. Fifteen of the 16 grant applicants were awarded at least a portion of the money requested, staff said. The West Linn High School Robotics team was the only applicant the committee decided not to grant funds to.

The WLHS robotics team and Friends of Maddax Woods gave testimony at Monday's meeting, pleading their cases for the grant money. The council deliberated between giving the remaining $1,350 to these two organizations and the West Linn Community Preschool, whose grant was partially funded by the Citizens Budget Committee. The committee granted the preschool $1,000 of the $2,800 it had requested.

Councilor Bill Relyea suggested raising the community grant fund from $25,000 to $30,000 to fund all three of these grants, to which Councilor Richard Sakilek pointed out that the council raised the grant fund from $20,000 to $25,000 during the last biennial budget cycle.

City Manager Eileen Stein said it was not impossible to move extra funds to the community grants in the newly adopted budget but pointed out how difficult it would be to pull $5,000 from elsewhere in the budget.

"I don't want to create the impression that there are discretionary pots of money laying around," she said. "With increases in other areas that are mandated we are trying to achieve budget savings for future deficits."

In the end, the council decided that all $1,350 would go to the community preschool because it did not receive the grant it had requested the previous year. In this decision, the council heeded the advice of the Citizens Budget Committee, which said that granting money to the robotics team would only encourage more after school programs to apply for community grants, which the City would not have money for.

Once budget discussions were finished for the evening, the council turned, once again, to the Council Rules. This time the rules were adopted, though not without a few final deliberations on aspects of the rules already discussed at length.

The council discussed details of its consent agenda in the rules regarding who can place items on the agenda with whose approval.

Council President Teri Cummings wanted a section of the rules stating that written minutes were required at official meetings removed from the document entirely.

"I think it's not appropriate to have written minutes. I would rather not have a meeting if I knew it wasn't possible to have an audio or video or digital recording of the meeting because it's just too much of a problem later when there's different opinions about what occurred at the meeting," Cummings said. "People remember things differently. An audio or video digital recording clears that up immediately. I don't think there's any good reason to have a meeting without an audio or video recording."

The council decided to strike the sentence mandating written minutes be taken at meetings, with the knowledge that the rule could be suspended at any time with a majority vote of the council.

Walters expressed frustration at the amount of time the council devoted to the rules discussion when she felt the conversations were no longer productive.

"I think this discussion that's happening now is indicative of how difficult this process has been on these council rules. We've been doing this for six months and it's cost our taxpayers thousands of dollars. We've had attorneys and facilitators, lengthy, lengthy discussions," Walters said. "We've had people picking apart words and sentence structure. I'm not quite sure if we're really doing a good job on behalf of our citizenry if this what we choose to spend all of this time on. I'd like to see us just approve these rules and move on."

Eventually, the council's lingering concerns were addressed and the rules adopted.

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