City Aims for Level-Funded Budget

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Friday January 03, 2014

On a cold Saturday morning in mid-December, City Councilors, City Manager Kevin Dorn, Deputy City Manager/City Treasurer Tom Hubbard, Finance Officer Sue Dory, and the heads of all city departments met at City Hall to review the FY15 budget, and to meet the goal of level-funding. While the goal of a level-funded budget is to keep taxes the same as the prior year, increases and decreases throughout city departments create shifts that require critical planning and adjustments.

To kick off the Dec. 14 budget overview,  Hubbard first explained that there was a carry-over from the balance sheet to the FY budget. In FY14, $400,000 was infused into the budget. Those funds would need to be re-infused or made up in the tax rate for the coming year. 

Some of the increases in Hubbard’s overview include health insurance, property insurance, and fire and police salaries.  A few of the reductions include the capital reserve fund, payment to the sick bank, the contingency fund, and city hall improvements. Other costs were eliminated, such as one police cruiser, Winooski Valley Park  District Contribution, and energy efficiency projects identified in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The total reduction is $1,500,000, and Hubbard recommended another carry over from the balance sheet be brought in at $350,000 to avoid other significant cuts. 

The total amount required for a zero increase is $1,053,000, Hubbard explained. That amount is what has been cut out of the FY14 budget to make FY15 work.

Hubbard reviewed significant departmental requests for the Council to consider. These include an additional police officer with salary and benefits combined for a total of  $96,000, a part-time position in the Planning and Zoning Department with consulting assistance at $62,000, an additional seasonal worker for the Public Works Department at $12,000, and city web site development at $9,000. In sum, those requests would require $224,000 worth of funding.

Overall, the FY15 proposal shows the general fund expenditures face a 2.5 percent decrease ($463,000) from FY14 with a budget of $21,105,342. The general fund non-property tax revenue expenditures face a 6.78 percent decrease ($657,689) from FY14 with a budget of $9,035,897. The budget as presented would also keep the tax rate the same as FY14: $0.4235.

The City Council budget decreased mainly because of the end of Interim Zoning. GF employee benefits, administrative services, legal/accounting/actuary, and the City Manager budget also saw decreases, 3.31 percent, 29.57 percent, 17.33 percent, and 9.08 percent decreases respectively. Property insurance shows a 37.25 percent increase.

Public Works Director Justin Rabidoux provided the enterprise funds for sewer, water and stormwater. The sewer budget for FY15 proposes a 2.32 percent increase; the water budget proposes a 1.14 percent decrease; and the stormwater budget proposes a 26.78 increase. The sewer rate is proposed to increase two percent which, for the average homeowner, would be $7 annually. The water rate  proposes a 1.59 percent increase; this would be $4.32 a year increase. Compared to other communities in the county, South Burlington is ranked in the bottom quarter (least expensive) regarding sewer and water rates. The rate for FY14 is tied as the second lowest water rate in the county. Under the Stormwater CIP, the stormwater rate proposes a 2.5 percent increase, or $1.80 increase per household to budget for future MS4 (municipal separate stormwater system) expenses. 

City Clerk Donna Kinville presented the proposed FY15 City Clerk budget which shows a 15.25 percent increase from FY14 largely due to election expenses, election workers, and BCA elections.

Planning and Zoning Director Paul Conner presented the proposed FY15 Planning and Zoning budget which shows  an 8.72 percent decrease from FY14 due to several eliminations from the budget altogether, including reimbursable grant expenditures, independent technical review, and legal permit review, among others.

Fire Chief Doug Brent presented the proposed FY15 fire and ambulance budgets; the fire department budget shows a 42.21 percent increase largely in part to department furniture and equipment (a $675,000 increase over FY14). The ambulance budget shows a 3.94 percent increase from FY14 largely due to salaries.

Police Chief Trevor Whipple presented the FY15 police budget which proposes an 8.5 percent increase ($349,889.09) from FY14. The budget includes the additional position for the current fiscal year--a position that will be partially funded by a federal grant. Council authorized that the officer could potentially begin Jan. 1, followed by 39 weeks of training. Even with an addition, the department is short staffed by one person. Whipple continued to explain the pluses and minuses including a deferral of a traffic safety truck (-$31,000).

Library Director Louise Murphy presented the FY 15 library budget which showed a slight increase, 1.05 percent, from FY14 due to school use, nonfiction and adult books, library salaries, supplies, and FICA/Medicare.

Todd Goodwin presented the FY15 Recreation budget. There is a 7.31 percent decrease in the recreation administration budget, a 95.57 percent decrease in the Red Rocks budget, a 37.89 percent decrease in the facilities budget, a 56.06 percent decrease in the leisure arts budget, and a 38.49 percent increase in general contracted programs.

After the department presentations, Mackenzie reviewed the list of social services and operating entities. Representatives for the HowardCenter and Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity were present.

In summation, the significant cuts made to the budget means there is a risk of having insufficient funds for unexpected emergencies, city center, or other major city services, Hubbard said.“The general fund allocation to the reserve fund is under the amount recommended to keep the tax rate from spiking several cents in a given year to fund city center bond payments and to continue to make these payments year-over-year,” Hubbard added. “The spike will occur as early as FY16 and possibly as high as $.015 cents just in the CIP.”

Councilor Rosanne Greco responded that not raising the property tax for FY15 would be a poor decision. Having no tax increase may please residents this year, but it could result in “sticker shock” when subsequent years may show a sharp tax increase versus a gradual annual increase, she said.

Additionally, Greco disagreed with cutting energy efficiency funds from the budget. Although energy efficiency efforts have upfront costs, these efforts have payback value. The three-person Planning and Zoning staff, though efficient and experienced, is not enough for a city of this size with major projects such as City Center and the TIF, she said.

Riehle also pointed out that the recent community crime forum feedback reflected a need for more public safety patrol, and not granting sufficient funds for these services could be seen as disingenuous to those who expressed interest.

Nowak agreed with the councilors reasoning, however, Nowak was hesitant to agree on a tax increase based on what is expected from the state tax department regarding property taxes, a five cent potential increase.

Shaw agreed that the Council will need to tighten the belt and try to stay as true to the budget as possible. Shaw referred to the tough decisions the school board had to make, such as cutting the assistant superintendent position, and that this year was the city’s turn to crack down on the financial puzzle.

Resident and Energy Committee Chair Sam Swanson spoke to the importance of keeping energy efficiency efforts in the budget. Councilors and Swanson agreed to have the Energy Committee draft a policy statement for the Council and provide technical assistance.

Councilors adjourned the meeting and intend to collect their thoughts about an energy efficiency policy for public facilities, public safety, and staffing issues for Planning and Zoning. Councilors were also tasked to submit their social services contribution rankings before the Council meeting on Dec. 16. At that meeting, the Council agreed to reallocate $260 from the Red Cross to Common Roots.

The  FY15 budget proposal must be completed by January 21 before it goes through the public hearing and voting process.

View the complete budget meeting on CCTV.org, view the budget on the city’s website www.sburl.com, or visit or call City Hall for additional information, 575 Dorset Street, 802-846-4107.

 

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent