A Message from the Mayor's Desk
As Mayor, my first commitment is to improve the financial health of our city. We have made a lot of progress and a lot of sacrifices over the past three years. On the upside, we have maintained many of our service levels and we have started some new projects that will provide long-term benefits. Further we have stabilized the budget and begun rebuilding our fund balances, which are necessary for weathering economic downturns and unanticipated expenses.
The great news is that, having received a balloon payment on some property the city sold several years ago, we are ending 2012 with a minimally acceptable General Fund Balance. The bad news is that we are forecasting a small deficit in 2013, and the Water and Sewer funds remain critically short on cash. We nevertheless have high hopes for 2013 since we anticipate large one-time infusions of revenue in 2013 from the building of a new day use facility at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort as well as a couple other significant projects elsewhere in the city. If they come to pass, the revenue generated by these projects will help get our city back on its financial feet again!
Unfortunately, the anticipated developments are not going to be completed soon enough to avoid a couple more lean years. The interfund loans that were required at the end of 2011 to maintain our financial health are scheduled for large repayments in 2013 and 2014. We also found that the staffing cuts made in 2012 were too large to allow us to maintain minimum service levels. To top it off, the legislature has redirected liquor tax revenues to shore up the state budget while sales tax revenues remain low.
To fix these problems, we had no choice but to increase the utility tax rate by 4% and to temporarily increase water and sewer fees by a total of $5.75 per month. This will allow us to increase staff in city hall and on the public works crew in order to provide adequate levels of service. I want to stress that the council made this decision only after reducing staffing levels and other expenses to a bare minimum. The rate increase is set to go away at the end of 2015. We will repeal it sooner if we can find a way to do so.
Major proposed changes in the 2013 budget include:
- Increase of utility tax on water and sewer by 4%.
- Temporarily increase base water and sewer charges by a total of $5.75 per month.
- Upgrading our Assistant Utilities Manager to Public Works Field Supervisor.
- Add a part-time secretary in city hall, bringing staff up to 2.75 people.
- Bring our public works staff from 2.5 back up to 3 people.
- Increase Economic Development contract closer to 2011 levels.
- Assume $55,000 in sales tax from development of the Bonneville Hot Springs day use facility.
- Assume a 10% medical benefit contribution from all employees, saving the city about $14,000.
Please note that some of these changes will require agreement with our employees’ union before they can be implemented.
We are excited by a number of positive developments:
- The installation of the Big Foot carvings is drawing new visitors to the city. We anticipate building on this success with continued additions to our Heritage Trails system.
- The Disc Golf course continues to be a big tourism draw, and we will be adding a small gazebo (purchased several years ago) near the first tee, by city hall.
- We anticipate receiving grant funding to allow us to develop a new well over the next few years. This second well will provide redundancy to our system in case the primary well ever fails and will provide enough capacity for the next 20 years of growth.
- We hope to complete the Shoreline Master Program update in 2013. It will include restoration plans for our creeks and better enable us to avoid future degradation. This effort is funded by a state grant and is helping with our staffing costs in 2013.
- By the end of 2012 we will have more than quadrupled our General Fund cash reserves from $33,000 to $150,000. Now we need to focus on rebuilding the balance sheets for the Water and Sewer funds!
- The 2013 budget includes money toward upgrading one of our three outdated sewer pump stations, all of which are so old that replacement parts are becoming hard to find.
- We will be undertaking hazard remediation on our pathway system next year to fix root heave and other hazards.
While we have made some great progress, we still have some major challenges ahead, including:
- Repairing Evergreen Drive, which has severe cracking and general wear.
- Shoring up the Street Fund to enable basic street maintenance.
- Replacing failing public works equipment.
- Replacing old sewer pump stations.
With this budget we are continuing to rebuild our reserves and bring the city to a secure financial position. We are maintaining minimum service levels and continuing to plan and build for the future. While there is still progress to be made and the next couple of years will be difficult, the city’s future is looking bright.