New administrator fights budget battle
You have to forgive Blaine Oborn if he doesn’t quite know his way around town yet. Rhinelander’s new City Administrator has bigger things on his mind.
Oborn has only been on the job for a little over a month, but he finds himself in perhaps the city’s gloomiest budget cycle, as the council continues to debate how to balance the 2012 operating budget.
“Because of the lateness of the hiring process, I got kind of a late start working with the budget, and right now I and the city’s department heads are playing catch-up,” said Oborn. “It’s been a lot of late nights and pouring over numbers, but that’s what I expected coming in. Everyone has been working very hard.”
Oborn discovered during his budget research in early October an additional shortfall of $500,000 for each of the last three years that the city is now charged with rectifying. He explained that the accounting was not a mistake, but rather an alternative way of interpreting the city’s financial standing.
“I think some here really didn’t understand that this was something we needed to look at,” said Oborn. “My goal is a balanced budget with nothing hidden. It’s going to be very difficult, but I think it is possible.”
On Oct. 6, Oborn presented the city’s Finance Committee with options for making up the deficit. Roughly $84,000 can be made back by increasing what the utilities pay back to the city. In addition, Oborn suggested cutting the public works budget by $376,000 by eliminating all proposed 2012 street projects and equipment purchases. About $244,000 budgeted for garbage and recycling collection was also proposed to be cut. Those costs would instead be collected through a special assessment added to property owners’ tax bill, which would in essence be a tax raise.
“I really didn’t mean to scare anyone, but it is important to get this budget balanced, and everyone needs to realize that hard decisions will have to be made to do that,” said Oborn. “I know no one is looking forward to it, but it has to be done.”
Oborn said his budget research, while tedious at times, has allowed him to learn much more about city operations at a quick pace than he would have had he been hired at a different point of the year. He said that, despite the budget struggles, he believe the city has a strong foundation for future growth.
“Rhinelander has been able to do well in the commercial market, and I believe that will continue,” said Oborn. “We are going to continue to look for opportunities for locating additional industry and retail within the city. There are opportunities out there.”
Oborn moved to Rhinelander from Kronenwetter, where he previously served as the Village Administrator. He just put his Marathon County home on the market on Monday, and hopes for a speedy sale so that he can begin house hunting in Rhinelander.
“Right now I’m renting an apartment, and going home to see my family on the weekends,” said Oborn. “I know they are anxious to get up here. We see Rhinelander as a terrific opportunity for our family.”
Oborn has also began to look at other ways to become involved in the community. He is currently a candidate in the 2011-12 Leadership Oneida County program, and recently took a tour of downtown Rhinelander led by officials from Downtown Rhinelander Inc., and has been approached by several organizations interested in having him serve on boards and committees. Oborn said he has no choice but to be picky about what he chooses to become involved in.
“I know that (former Administrator) Bill Bell took some criticism because he was involved on so many levels in different facets of the community that some felt it was taking away his time from city matters,” said Oborn. “I certainly believe that the city’s employees and elected officials should be involved, but we need to choose those carefully because we only have so much time. It certainly isn’t a slight to any organization.”
Oborn said he was happy to see many projects come to fruition during his first few weeks on the job, including the city’s new wastewater treatment facility becoming operational and the ongoing construction of the Lincoln Street sidewalks. He said that while budget constraints may hinder capitol projects next year, Rhinelander is in good shape moving forward.
“This city has been very progressive when it comes to seeking grants and federal money to make infrastructure improvements, and I see no reason why that can’t continue,” said Oborn. “We are always going to face some difficult decisions, but it hasn’t been anything that most other municipalities haven’t had to deal with. The difficult decisions end up making you stronger longterm.”