$30 million city budget for 2002 gets the nod

Published on Thu, Nov 29, 2001 by Meg Olson

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$30 million city budget for 2002
gets the nod

By Meg Olson

“I believe,” was Blaine city council member John Liebert’s comment on a budget that combines faith and austerity to float the city through 2002. Faced with little hope of increased revenues and inexorably increasing costs, the city will hope for grants and loans to get the big jobs done and take a red pencil to a score of smaller items.

The bottom line will be the $30 million budget approved unanimously at the November 26 council meeting – 18 percent higher than last year’s spare budget. The bulk of the increases are for capital projects, such as sewer upgrades, funded by grants and loans, many of which haven’t been identified yet. The current expense fund, which pays for city operations from police protection to painting city hall, will grow less than two percent to $4.6 million.

“We identified some key budget issues, not the least of which was a fairly flat revenue picture,” said city manager Gary Tomsic as budget deliberations entered the final stretch. City council approved a one-percent property tax increase at their last meeting, limited to that by the recent voter approval of initiative 747, which will generate less than $10,000 for city coffers.

City finance director Meredith Riley said the current economic climate made an increase in sales tax revenues unlikely and, in remarks earlier in the meeting, state Senator Georgia Gardner said cities should not be expecting assistance from a strapped state government. “Don’t think for a minute the state will be able to help you on anything,” she said.

Tomsic stressed the city’s expenses had to be trimmed not only to match revenues but to leave money in the bank. “The budget requests we received drew down the general fund balance below what we recommend,” he said. “Our task became finding a couple hundred thousand to cut.”

The street program was one of the hardest hit, with $88,000 earmarked for crack sealing and overlays shaved from its budget. The program will still have over $100,000 more than last year, but Tomsic said it isn’t enough to keep up the city’s planned 50-year maintenance and improvement plan. He recommended council form a committee to either find more dollars or look at lower-cost street maintenance alternatives.

“The longer we delay the further we fall behind,” he said. “If we don’t come up with additional dollars we need to cut back on maintenance.”
The current expense fund had $228,000 shaved off spending. “That was the one in the most trouble,” Riley said. The savings will boost the fund’s operating buffer, set by city policy at 30 days of operating capital.

Spending on the city’s computer system was cut by $50,000 and $20,000 in repairs to city hall, including a paint job, were put on hold.
“For a third year we’re not bringing this building up to spec or complying with the turn-of-the century guidelines we’re asking everyone else to follow,” grumbled mayor Dieter Schugt.

The city is also saving money on personnel costs due to a decreased need for headhunters, planning consultants and legal help with labor negotiations.

Tomsic said it was important to focus on what the city was doing with its money, rather than what it wasn’t. “Our budget should reflect our goals and values,” he said, reviewing how the budget moved forward items identified in the city’s strategic plan such as attracting businesses and tourists to keeping neighborhoods safe. There is ongoing support for police staffing and continued, though modest, infrastructure improvement. Projects such as the ongoing revision of city fees, a loan program to help property owners spruce up their buildings or lots and planning for a boardwalk along Peace Portal Drive are funded under the 2002 budget.

Tomsic said running the numbers was only the first part of a successful budget. Faith in the product was the secret ingredient. “Some people say ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’, and then some say ‘I’ll see it when I believe it’. I say believe it,” he said.
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