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City officials start new two-year budget discussions

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Interim City Manager Jim Bridges (left) explains to Sunnyside City Council members the benefits a transportation benefit district as Finance Director Byron Olson looks on.

The Sunnyside City Council was last night advised by Finance Director Byron Olson of the process required in implement a biennial budget.

The city normally plans an annual budget, but will be planning the budget every two years instead as a money-saving effort.

Olson said council, instead of taking part in an all-day retreat, will be participating in two-hour meetings every four to five weeks, beginning Wednesday, June 23.

He believes this will ease the burden of council. It will provide members the opportunity to address questions and make recommendations according to the department or portion of the budget covered at the meeting.

The final 2010 budget, shared Olson, will serve as a base document in planning the 2011-12 budget.

"The plan is to hold a workshop in October for the final (2011-12) budget recommendations," he noted.

Olson developed a calendar and a binder he feels will help the city council members through the budget process. "I wanted to craft a process that fits the needs of council," he noted.

Department heads, he continued, are scheduled to give the city council revenues and expenditures of 2010 in July.

"The city manager hasn't formally agreed on a beginning baseline, but we anticipate the 2010 budget will be that baseline," Olson told the council.

To be considered when looking at the budget will be major sources of funding for the General Fund. Olson said the council will look at how receipts from major funding sources, like sales, property and utility taxes.

He provided the council members with bar graphs detailing the receipts received on a monthly basis to give them an overview of how and when revenues are received.

February, for instance, was a good month for sales taxes in 2010.

April of 2010 property taxes brought in more than $638,000 to the city.

Olson said he believes the spikes are due to income tax refunds community members receive in February.

He explained to the council members income taxes are now filed online and refunds are received more quickly. As a result, property owners choose to pay their taxes instead of waiting. The taxes paid in February are received by the city in April.

Olson said the city may need to consider whether or not to develop a transportation benefit district, imposing a $20 vehicle license fee on community members.

He turned the discussion over to Interim City Manager Jim Bridges, who said the public would need to be well educated on the benefits of the fee.

"The funds stay local," shared Bridges, after acknowledging voters turned down efforts of raising fees for transportation funding in the past.

He told the council the community also needs to be made aware that other entities, such as the county, state and federal government would not receive any of the funding.

All monies generated from the $20 fee would be used on Sunnyside streets, sidewalks, streetlights and transportation projects.

Bridges said the funding could also be used as seed funds or local match funding when the city applied for grants.

"It's an option that's out there," he advised, noting there would be a significant benefit to the community if the city council approved the fee.

Councilmen Tom Gehlen, Paul Garcia and Nick Paulakis all said the community would be more welcoming to the idea if the city could identify specific transportation projects for the funding.

Bridges agreed, stating it would be something the council would need to share with the community.

"We're not going to see any more transportation funding from the state and federal governments," shared Mayor Jim Restucci, pointing out other governments have depleted transportation funding accounts.

Bridges said, "We have 55 miles of road to maintain and we must be intent on educating the public."

Olson took charge of the conversation shortly after the discussion about transportation funds, explaining to the city council members up for consideration will also be water, sewage and garbage rates. The council, he said, will need to look at ways in which money can be saved by both the city and the community members.

"If we hold the line on utility rates, we need to look at how that will impact the budget," he noted.

Bridges told council the major expenditures at the sewage treatment plant are directly related to electricity use.

The city will be saving some money with the purchase of new sewer plant blowers, but he feels more can be done. As a result, Bridges has asked Pacific Power to conduct an energy audit to help the city cut costs.

With capital project funding, city council will need to evaluate the need for completing projects, such as a new fire station. After evaluating the needs, Olson said the council will have to evaluate the effect on the 2011-12 budget.

He said the city council needs to "align what we are doing to promote public safety, health and commerce.

"There will always be more requests in the budget than money available."

Continuing, Olson told the council to keep in mind some requests are of higher benefit to the community and can be prioritized as such.

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