Green River Star -

By Reed Clevenger
City Administrator 

Notes from Town Square: The city's budget process

 


The governing body passed the recent fiscal year 2017-2018 budget this last week as part of the June 20 council meeting.

This year’s internal budget process was again focused on maintaining service levels with less funding. To get to this approval we as the city, the council, the finance committee, the department heads, and staff had to focus on the budget with a view of being able to reset, rethink, and refocus all areas of the city. While we are always looking at the budget throughout the year, and managing all of its elements, we zeroed in on our initial internal and external meetings schedule in late January.  This schedule included multiple department head meetings, Finance Committee meetings, six promoted workshops for the public on elements of the budget, review of community service requests, the enterprise funds and the rate studies that were done by the consultant group NewGen, review of fee schedules, forecasting of the expected sales tax revenues to build the general fund, as well as the hearing and adoption of the actual budget.  When you add in the regular first and third Tuesday meetings each month for the council, you realize the long and tedious process that is involved to pass a budget.  While we were able to change some things up to help shorten the process and time it takes to get to approval, the fact that we are still dealing with a declining economy that continues to drive how we look at each month and react based on changes occurring with our revenue streams.

Statutorily, we have to submit a budget to the governing body in April and it has to be passed between the first and third Tuesday of June. The workshops and meetings we have are to help share and gather information to help make more informed choices.  We advertise these meetings in our local paper, our website, on our local radio stations, and we broadcast the workshops and council meetings live on cable TV.  Sometimes it seems redundant but we understand that we need to make it available through multiple avenues to allow people access to the information.

Everyone is well aware of the impacts the economy has had on our city and the entire state.  Wyoming’s dependence on natural resources, and our dependence on sales tax revenues, leaves it vulnerable to economic swings that must be managed.  We have seen our sales tax revenue numbers drop significantly. These numbers haven’t been seen since the early 2000s. Fortunately we started seeing an indication of declining revenues at the end of last fiscal year and began an early process of expense management that included not filling vacant positions, not rehiring in some areas, cost management initiatives on travel, training, review of service contracts, and postponing purchases where applicable to help drive down those costs and conserve funds. We continued our conservative approach this fiscal year as well and have dropped the expected revenue forecast 19 percent lower than we started with last fiscal year.

The work the department heads and their staff have done going into this budget year has been commendable.  They have had to sit with their departments and strategize new ideas and go outside the norm to attack the budget challenges that would still deliver “beyond basic needs” to the residents and meets priorities from the governing body that deal with safety, people, infrastructure, and development.  As an organization, even at the government level, we have to be able to continue to monitor and work towards delivering our best. All of us will be challenged over the coming months and beyond.  It isn’t a matter of “doing more with less”, but more of the scenario of “is what we are doing being done for the best of the residents and the city, and is it being done efficiently and to the best of our abilities”? 

We have made serious cuts in some areas, we have to continue to educate the citizens about expectations, and we have to continue to monitor where we can still improve.  While we are seeing an uptick in the economy, we need to see that in the monthly sales tax revenues and we want to see a longer course trend in that direction before we can begin to address the areas that we know need our attention sooner rather than later.

We will continue to work towards economic development even in the down turns by finding other revenue sources, grants, or partnerships.  We still have to follow the vision and continue to make headway in those long range plans that deal with infrastructure needs and maintenance so that when we do come out of the downturn we are more prepared.  There are areas where budgets will not be able to provide some programs at previous expected levels.  We will have to continue to monitor and be creative in managing our revenues and expenses but it can be done.  We are still very fortunate at many levels here in Green River and we will get through this cycle just as we have with many others before this one.

As a last note, I wanted to discuss the enterprise funds and the rate structure. Rates that were passed for the funds included an increase in Solid Waste from $25.50 for residential service to $31.50. While this doesn’t include the entire rate increase needed to continue management of the solid waste process, it does give the council time to look into proposals from private companies on their ability to offer residential, commercial, transfer station management, and other solid waste services we currently perform.

We will also continue to explore the solid waste district areas within the county no matter the direction taken. Similar to what was sent out in the utility bills of “projected” customer rates, the water rate remained relatively the same and the waste water had an increase between $1.50 and $5 based on a low to high user. This increase is tied to the state loans we have for the engineering of the new waste water treatment facility. This project is 4-5 years out and will be at a cost of roughly $30 million. We will be working to get grants and other loan components to limit the cost where we can to the residents. But this facility is long past its life cycle. The major cost to fix the old plant only offers a limited life span and will not be able to meet discharge requirements we will be faced with in the future.

We understand rates are a sensitive issue.  The governing body and administration used approved funds to do a complete rate audit of all enterprise funds and an efficiency study in solid waste.  The completed audit was presented at a workshop and further reviewed in another to help understand true costs of operations based on our customer base within the city. 

This audit helped build a long term plan on rate structure in all our enterprise funds as well as the philosophy behind it that is similar to other communities and national standards. It remains a tool that is a work in progress that evaluates and defines our needs and the resident expectations of services.   

We look forward to the next fiscal year and continuing our work for the city and for the residents. For those of you who would like to be more involved in the how the city operates, there are many volunteer positions on boards and committees looking for dedicated citizens who want to make a difference.

 

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