City Services To Take Hit Under Proposed 2014 Budget

Aug 8, 2013

In a news conference following the City Council meeting where City Manager Sheryl Sculley presented next year’s proposed budget, she summed up the process in three words: Tough budget year.

Sculley and her team found $13.5 million in cuts, mostly administrative, but that doesn’t make up for the $35 million -$50 million gap the city is facing. Other measures and cuts will have to be made.

"We're raising some fees within the general fund as well for emergency medical transport," Sculley said. "Also, some parks and recreation fees are being recommended to increase in the budget."

The city could also start juggling bond savings if the city council approves the proposals -- moving bonds to another year's bond program in order to get projects funded. Sculley said some street infrastructure projects will be moved into the capital budget and cover the cost under the 2007 bond.

"So it's a combination of reductions, of some slight revenue increases, and as I said, no property tax rate increase is recommended in the budget," she said.

Although there is no plan to raise property taxes, District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules pointed out that property values are up, and he’s worried it will take a toll on families that will also face increases to their water and electric bills down the road.

"So even though we're not raising the rates, taxes will be going up," he said on the council dais. "People will be paying more. So the net effect is that the city will be taking a larger bite in this next year out of household budgets and we need to be cognizant of that."

Solid waste services could also be going up by 50 cents to $19.93, as recommended, which is a 2.6 percent increase. There was no increase for solid waste services in 2013.

To maintain public safety, Sculley said areas like Animal Care Services, libraries and code enforcement will take a hit under the proposal.

"That's what we all do in our own budget. We have this much to work with," she said. "What is it that we're going to spend it on? And we have to make choices."

Limited resources, Sculley said, is what makes the decision particularly tough for the council.

"Expenses are growing at a higher rate than revenues are increasing so we must balance that. We don't want to cut public safety -- our core service -- so that means the other 33 percent of the general fund budget must take the cuts," Sculley said.

In the police sector, grants are helping keep the roster up. The proposed budget includes $307,000 in matching grant for Community Oriented Policing Services. The grant would award 10-25 new police officer positions.

Communities likely taking a hit

City Council Project Funds could see a hit if the budget as presented is adopted. Currently, each council member receives nearly $62,000 to host back-to-school fairs, immunization clinics, spay and neuter services, and other events that benefit the community at large. The proposal includes a reduction of the project funds to $35,000.

Most council members do not like the idea because they say it would limit their ability to provide quality programming. District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg agreed with the cut.

"Although it will definitely have an effect on discretionary spending in each district for things like community events, scholarships, and even some arts and educational programming, our fiscal reality requires reasonable sacrifice where it can be found,” he said in an email. “I also agree that it will benefit taxpayers to provide more oversight and constraint for how [the] funds can be spent.” 

"These cutbacks… should have no effect on how much council members can reach out into their communities. Doing a good job with what we've got will send the right message loud and clear," Nirenberg concluded.

Sculley said city employees will be receiving raises based on the civilian step pay plan, a six-year program that phases in raises, 3 percent at a time, to different portions of the city’s workforce. Sculley said senior executives within the city, including herself, will receive raises based on performance.

Delegate agencies like ChildSafe and the Children’s Museum won’t see as much money that they wanted, either. The exception, according to the proposal, is Haven for Hope, which will remain at last year’s funding levels.

Council members will have the chance to work through the proposal during the month at several budget workshops planned. Community-wide budget hearings are also planned for public input. They begin Aug. 12 and last through Aug. 20. Final adoption of the budget will take place on Sept. 12.