Commissioners begin work on 2013 budget

By Burk Krohe

City commissioners took their first look at the 2013 budget Tuesday, and they already have ideas on how to reduce it.

Bernie Hayen, city finance director, presented the $122.975 million document to commissioners.

“This is my time of year,” Hayen said jokingly. “I love this time of year.”

The budget presented by Hayen would result in an 8.5 percent spending increase over this year’s $113.253 million budget.  It would also result in a 2.815 mill levy increase. The Riley County Law Board increased its budget from about $13 million this year to $14.144 million in 2013, which alone results in a 1.046 mill increase. However, several commissioners made it clear they would be looking for reductions in order to keep an increase in property taxes as minimal as possible.

Hayen noted the growth of the city in the last several years and highlighted the fact that the city’s staff has stayed relatively static.

“I know there’s been ongoing concern, certainly from this commission and past commissions as well, about the level of property taxes and where those property taxes have gone,” Hayen said.

He told commissioners property taxes related to city services have remained relatively flat since 2004, and added “that’s not to say property taxes have not gone up in total.”

As commissioners and city staff proceeded through the budget review, they quickly identified areas for reductions. One of the most obvious was the new municipal parking division, which would maintain the new parking garage in the south end and several other city parking lots.

The budget for the division was initially proposed at $140,200. Hayen said the anticipated annual cost of the new garage is $45,700, which is included in the division’s overall budget.

“I think that number is going to go down a lot,” Ron Fehr, city manager, said.

Fehr said it was put into the budget as more of a “place holder” and he assured commissioners “that number will not stay at 140.” Mayor Loren Pepperd said revenues from parking could help offset the cost of maintaining the garage and other lots. 

“We do need to do something about downtown parking and we do need to have a downtown parking plan,” Pepperd said.

Commissioner Jim Sherow said even a modest fee of a few dollars per day to park in the garage could cover the cost of maintaining it.

Commissioners agreed that paid parking is something that will need to be investigated further.

Staff and commissioners also identified the city pools as an area for possible reductions. The pools’ expenses in the proposed budget are $601,700, while the revenues for 2013 are estimated at $434,500. Based on those numbers, the pools would operate with a $167,200 subsidy from the city’s general fund.

Curt Loupe, city parks and recreation director, said the parks and recreation department has two planned changes for 2013 to save costs and add revenue. One is to consolidate three pool manager positions into one “aquatics supervisor” position and the second is to increase fees for swim lessons.

The other major change being discussed is closing all three pools in the middle of August instead of keeping one open until Labor Day.

“We really didn’t see, from a revenue standpoint, the advantage of that,” Fehr said.

Loupe noted for the seven days the pool was open after August 15 until Labor Day in 2011, the city lost a net of $19,000. He also told commissioners it’s difficult to keep lifeguards on staff until Labor Day. The city has found the only strong incentive to stay until Labor Day is pay bonuses, which only add to the general fund subsidy.

The city has also discussed adjusting the pool hours. 

“If we were closed one hour earlier, we could actually facilitate more pool parties, which actually produces more revenue than it does expense to us,” Loupe said.

A majority of commissioners favored the recommendations.

“I always like the idea of longer pool hours, but the data essentially says it’s not cost-effective,” Commissioner Wynn Butler said. “It’s not worth pursuing.”

Pepperd disagreed.

“I still think it’s a public service…that pools should be open, for the size of this town, at least until Labor Day,” he said.

The second budget work session is scheduled for June 12.

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