By the numbers: what Salem City Hall is doing with your money

Salem City Hall pictured summer 2018 (Salem Reporter files)

The city of Salem finalized its budget Monday night, but financial discussions aren’t over for Salem City Council.

The budget approves more than $630 million in spending, and largely passed unchanged from what City Manager Steve Powers proposed in April.

However, Salem’s leaders still have to find more revenue for the city for the years ahead. The city is increasingly dipping into what is essentially its savings account in order to make up for rising expenses.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the big numbers and trends moving forward.

$632.3 million

That’s total spending planned over the next fiscal year by the city of Salem. That pays for everything from sidewalk maintenance to sewer pipes to city staffers who check to make sure everything operates as it should.

Most of this money comes from residents’ property taxes – save for some other revenue sources like permit fees, parking tickets and more.

4.1 percent

Salem’s plans to spend about 4.1% more this year — the equivalent of about $25.2 million in increased spending. In 2019, Salem budgeted $607 million in expenses.


That’s the cost per person to run the city of Salem, when comparing total expense with Salem’s population, as estimated by Portland State University’s Population Research Center.

The center’s latest data pegged Salem’s population at 165,265 people on July 1, 2018.

1,235 positions

The city of Salem will employ what amounts to 1,235.75 full-time workers for the fiscal year. Last year: 1,236.30 full-time equivalent.

24 funds

The city of Salem has 24 separate funds that pool together to comprise the entire budget. Most are self-contained, with money usually coming from a variety of fees, fines and taxpayers. They range from the city’s airport fund to the downtown parking fund.

$9 million short

Paying for services familiar to most taxpayers, such as the library, police, firefighters, will cost more than the city will take in. To balance the books, the city will spend $9 million from what is essentially savings.

How can this be? City officials say costs are outrunning income because of higher wages and rising costs of benefits for healthcare and public employee retirement.

Three changes

The city council made three last-minute additions to the budget proposed by City Manager Steve Powers.

A youth development coordinator. Cost: $176,650.

A long-range planner. Cost: $108,000.

A climate action plan. Cost: $50,000.

The year 2021

If the city of Salem can’t find more revenue, city services will be cut in next year’s budget, according to a staff report Powers submitted to the council

“Without additional revenue, the (fiscal year) 2021 budget will require reductions in general fund services such as police, fire, parks, planning, library, recreation and code enforcement,” Powers wrote. “Adding expenditures in the (current) budget will increase the need for reductions if there are not new revenues to support (next year’s) budget.”

Powers noted the $334,000 from council’s three changes create “a comparatively small adjustment to the challenge facing the city.”

Two weeks

The budget is passed, but Salem City Council has another financial decision to make. On July 8, council will discuss the possibility of enacting an operating fee or an employee-paid payroll tax — or both.

An operating fee would add a new, monthly charge to utility bills. Meanwhile, the employee-paid payroll tax could cull a small percentage from paychecks of people that work in Salem.

Salem councilors will be able to decide at the meeting whether they want to enact any fees with their own authority, or whether to put it to a vote.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.

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