Plugging away

Published 5:20 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

In recent years, several actions by the Washington City Council indicate the council is working toward improving the city’s fiscal health.

Among those actions are reducing the amount of money transferred from the electric fund to the general fund, with the goal of eliminating such annual transfers altogether, and carefully reviewing the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, a document that proposes purchases of major equipment, construction projects and the like, to find ways to reduce city expenses. The council also wants to get away from dipping into its fund balance (rainy-day fund) to balance the city’s general fund.

Those are actions the council should continue to pursue.

During a council meeting in December 2011, council members made statements indicating they are more than ready to tackle the city’s fiscal challenges.

At the meeting, Councilman Edward Moultrie Jr. broached the issue of the city transferring revenue from one fund to another. “I think one of my concerns is we need to stop dipping into the electric fund,” said Moultrie, who supports the city’s effort to reduce the amount of revenue it transfers from its electric fund to its general fund.

That annual transfer has been reduced to under $1 million. It used to be more than $1 million.

Many Washington Electric Utilities customers who don’t live in the city object to transferring money from the electric fund to the general fund. They contend that at least part of the money they pay on their electric bills is used to subsidize city operations, services and programs.

“One of the things that concerns me, and this is the fourth or fifth year in a row that … we’ve dipped into the general fund and we are showing a negative balance. I don’t think we can continue to do that,” Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson said at that meeting. “So, I don’t know what the answer is, but collectively we need to come up and get something squared away on the general fund. We can no longer continue to go into fund balance.”

When the council approved the current fiscal year’s budget, they also approved a 5-percent reduction in in-town residential electric rates. Council members and the mayor point to that action as proof they are working to reduce electric rates.

As Mayor Archie Jennings said during the council’s review of the city’s CIP on Monday, “Just because it’s in the CIP doesn’t mean it will go in the budget.” That’s another indication that he and the council are keeping close watch on the city’s expenses.

The mayor and council are on a journey that will benefit the city. By taking that journey a step at a time, they can take the city where it needs to go with its finances.