City Council begins budget work in earnest Monday

Published 6:59 pm Sunday, May 3, 2009

By Staff
Mercer seeks cost-cuts to minimize rate increase
Contributing Editor
There wasn’t much discussion when the mayor and City Council received their copies of the city manager’s proposed budget at their meeting last week.
They went into a closed session and adjourned the meeting when the session was over.
But look for a lively discussion Monday, when the council and mayor begin deliberating on that proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2009-2010, which begins July 1. The council has final say on the budget and property-tax rate, which City Manager James C. Smith’s proposal leaves at 60 cents per $100 valuation.
Smith’s recommended overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $62.4 million, or $7.96 million less than the current fiscal year budget of $70.36 million. Of that $62.4 million, $39.6 million is for Washington Electric Utilities.
Smith’s proposed $11.3 million general-fund budget calls for reducing some services, mainly by shortening hours at The George H. and Laura E. Brown Library and the Hildred T. Moore Aquatic and Fitness Center. The proposed general-fund budget, which covers city government day-to-day operations, is $2.3 million less than the current general-fund budget — a 16.9 percent reduction.
That still may not be enough, Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer said on Tuesday.
He hopes to make enough additional cuts in the proposed budget to help the city ease an expected increase in retail electric rates come July 1.
Every $300,000 the city can reduce from its expenses shaves 1 percent off that rate increase, said Mercer, noting the city’s cost for buying electricity increased five months ago.
Mercer hopes to find enough cuts so the increase in electric rates will be 4 percent or less.
Mercer said he will look closely at expenditures, day-to-day costs and capital costs to determine if some of those can be postponed until the city’s revenue picture improves. The crippled economy has resulted in declining projected revenues for the city this fiscal year, and that decline is expected to continue during the next fiscal year, possibly two.
Instead of buying five new police cruisers in the next fiscal year, that number may be reduced to three, Mercer offered as an example.
Councilman Gil Davis said during this budget season he will focus on overtime costs and capital expenditures.
Although he wants to reduce overtime when possible, Davis doesn’t want services to be hampered because of it.
The councilman said he is concerned “that we got the budget a little late this year … because it doesn’t give us a lot of time to review it in great detail.”
The council must adopt the new budget by June 30, unless it adopts a short-term interim budget as it works on the regular budget after the deadline.
Copies of the proposed budget may be reviewed by the public at Brown Library or in the Washington City Clerk’s Office in the Municipal Building. The budget sessions begins at 4:30 p.m. Monday, in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Building.