By Sue Botos
City officials know the 2014 budget will be about $2.1 million leaner than the previous year’s due to voters’ rejection of an income tax increase from 1.5 to 2 percent. They have not set in stone the items that will feel the pinch, but a few areas have been identified as next year’s budget goes through its initial draft.
The emphasis, Mayor Pam Bobst said, is now on projections, forecasts and the buildup of cash reserves to secure funds for a balanced budget.
“Obviously, we have cut personnel already, and this translates to programs and services,” Bobst commented at last week’s City Council legislative session. “We will consider the residents’ needs first, then how we can cut $2 million,” she added.
A total of 24 full-time employees have been eliminated from the city payroll since 2008. The general fund budget has been trimmed from $25,331,598 in that year to $19,261,844 in 2012.
Bobst said the departments that get support from general fund transfers will be “on the radar screen” for cuts. For example, she said, the police marine patrol received a $60,000 grant for a new boat; however, the city would have to match that amount for the total cost. Now that spending, as well as an additional $8,000 to $10,000 to run the program, is out of the question.
In addition, $150,000 for a new ambulance was removed from legislation for supplemental appropriations recently approved by council. City Council President Jim Moran added that this ordinance included $131,000 from FEMA in repayment for costs incurred after Hurricane Sandy. Wage increases for the fire division and wastewater treatment plant workers are also reflected in the measure, as well as $70,000 for refuse collection equipment maintenance, including scooters and packers. He said that economic development funds could possibly be used to cover this cost.
Bobst noted this legislation only authorizes application for grants and loans to cover these costs. The measure will again be presented to council if these applications are accepted.
As for the controversial topic of trash pickup, Bobst said that a quick fix may be an option until the financial waters calm a bit. “Because we have to act quickly, we may charge for a short duration,” she stated. Bobst said that a short-term fee, lasting about two or three years, for the current backyard pickup of refuse is under discussion by city administrators.
“Then we’ll see how residents feel,” Bobst added.
Although automated refuse collection by an outside contractor may still be an alternative, Bobst said officials have enough on their collective plate at this point. “This is a large, extremely costly operation. It cost about $2.3 million a year ago and is probably more now. But it’s wise not to get into details right now,” she commented.
Bobst again encouraged community feedback concerning city finances, and urged the formation of public-private partnerships. “We want the residents to tell us what’s important to them. Wednesday (Nov. 6) was tough, but since then, the residents have reached out.
“That’s the dialogue I hoped we would have had in June and July, but it is good that we’re having it now. I’ll leave it at that,” she stated.