Taking on the budget

Chris Thomas · Friday, March 8, 2013
Two weeks ago, the City Council met to set the budget for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2013. Next week on Wednesday the 13th at 7:30 p.m., we will be holding our public hearing on the budget at City Hall in order to provide an opportunity for the public to comment or ask questions. The full proposed budget is at City Hall and is open to inspection by the public, if interested.

This year’s budget process was guided by two major factors. The first was uncertainty. Since our counterparts at the state and federal level are once again unable to produce a coherent budget themselves or a coherent plan for cities to rely upon, no new initiatives or major projects were included in this year’s budget. With the current federal and state dysfunction, the City does not feel it prudent to plan projects that might involve revenue or other funding that may or may not exist in the future.

The second was a desire to limit any property tax increase. As our local businesses and economy are just picking up after an economic downturn, we wanted to avoid, to the extent possible, adding to anyone’s tax burden. What resulted was a combination of some difficult cuts and a modest increase in the property tax rate.

Our starting point for the budget was maintaining current services with no additional projects or major expenditures. With no cuts to expenditures in the budget, this would have resulted in a property tax increase of $2.24 per $1000 of assessed property value (a home valued at $100,000 would have seen an annual property tax increase of $118.00). To have no tax increase at all, $193,000 needed to be cut from the budget. After much deliberation, we ended up with a property tax increase of only $0.24 per $1000 of assessed property value (a home valued at $100,000 will see an annual property tax increase of $7.00).

To get to this property tax levy, we cut $118,000 in expenditures, re-allocated revenue sources for $63,000 of expenditures and chose not to fill a vacant staff position on our street/sanitation crew. The cuts involved eliminating one patrol officer from the police department (bringing the total number of officers from seven back down to six); trading in two police cars when purchasing the next new vehicle; decreasing the cost of living pay increase for all city employees by 1%; and a final 2% across the board cut to general fund expenditures (other than the police department and library). The re-allocations involved using cemetery reserves for our cemetery operating expenses, repair and maintenance; donating the cost of electricity at the city pool from our electric utility; and moving our funding of economic development fully to our utility accounts (note that neither of these re-allocations from the utilities will have an effect on rates charged to consumers).

Budgeting is always difficult, and the choices are never easy. The City of West Liberty continues to be in sound financial condition, though, because we have been willing to make difficult decisions rather than kick the can down the road in the hope that circumstances, outside of our control, change. I would certainly encourage anyone with questions or concerns about the decisions we have made to attend the public hearing next week or contact your City Council Members, city staff or me directly.
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