Worksessions Address Mid- Cycle 2013 Operating Budget Adjustments

By Heidi Zemach for SCN
Heading into year two of the City of Seward’s biennial (two-year) budget for FY 2013, the new city administration has proposed some operating budget adjustments reversing some of the “drastic cuts” that department heads felt were made in their department’s budgets last year. During the first of a series of three evening work-sessions this week devoted to the topic, Finance Director Kris Erchinger laid out a list of proposed budget additions Monday that weren’t in the 2013 General Fund budget created last year.

Last year, department heads were required by former city manager Phillip Oates to cut a combined sum total of $800,000 from the city’s previous operating (or General Fund) budget; including $260,000 from Public Safety, $54,000 from Parks and Recreation, and $3,600 from the Library. Seward Police Department’s overtime budget was cut in half, although the budget they already had barely covered required holiday overtime pay, said Chief Tom Clemons. Cutting overtime in the public works department for 2012, similarly did not take into consideration the extra hours needed to cover winter storms and other emergencies, Erchinger said. That overtime had to be approved separately later.

Plans to save city revenues by closing Spring Creek campground, a restroom downtown, and to forgo City Christmas lights may have sounded plausible at the time, but some of those decisions were later reversed by popular demand. People have come to expect a certain level of services we provide, Erchinger said.

It had been a difficult, and controversial budget process that came amidst some public criticism of the new library museum building that the city was asked to bond for, and failed administration-driven proposals to raise additional revenues to pay for it through either increased property taxes, sales taxes, or a “sin” tax for alcohol and tobacco products. At the same time, council and the public learned about costly deferred maintenance needs for ageing and crumbling city infrastructure that would be addressed through enterprize fee increases.
In advance of the 2013 budget revisions, however, City Manager Jim Hunt asked his department heads to tell him their department’s budget needs, rather than direct them on an amount they needed to cut. And so they did, adding a proposed sum total of $512,500 back into the operating budget. All were justified during the work session by increased expected costs, personnel changes, employees needing specific training or certification, and city building changes. A proposed $10,000 budget increase for the TYC summer camp program, would return the fees charged clients to pre-existing 2011 levels. The proposal came about due to a sharp downturn in participation last summer, even after a tiered-fee scale was piloted, with lower fees offered to those who could prove their income status with food stamps, Denali Kid-Care, and doubled fees for the rest. (See the list of proposed additions to existing budget items at end of article.)

One area not addressed in the FY 2013 budget was the cost of paying for the new community library museum building in the upcoming year, other than cutting hours and a reduction in employees. Council also had suggested moving members of the electric department and some other employee positions into the current library building, rather than the city continuing to rent private office space for them. At Monday night’s work session, Erchinger detailed the estimated cost of keeping both the old library building, and the old museum open, and moving the city electric department, Parks and Rec sports staff (formerly located at AVTEC), and Community Development personnel into them.



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The existing (or old) library would cost $10,000 a year for utilities: $5,400 for heating fuel; $5,500 for insurance; $2,500 for janitorial, and $12,000 for facility repairs, Erchinger said.
The (old) Museum building, if kept open to accommodate parks and recreation staff displaced from the new AVTEC building agreement, would cost $3,600 for utilities; $3,600 heating fuel; $500 for janitor service; $1,440 for communications equipment, and $7,000 for modifying the building.
An outside group has expressed interest in renting the museum building from the city, said Councilwoman Vanta Shafer. She felt there is adequate space in the old library for the additional city staff. On the matter of TYC fees, Shafer said children who did not attend TYC last summer found other places to go for day care.
Mayor David Seaward asked administrators whether they had yet considered outsourcing any existing city services (such as parking, childcare, campgrounds) to the private sector, which it could probably do for less, and more efficiently than city workers could. That’s an idea that came up last year, and seemed to have the council’s interest.
“We considered outsourcing at every degree,” Hunt said at first. Then, he deferred to Assistant Mayor Ron Long, who said the council had never given the city direction over which functions they wanted the city to outsource, but rather had put off the discussion for a later, unspecified date. The council really should consider outsourcing this year, said Shafer, but not for FY 2013, as they are already in the midst of a two-year budget cycle.
Budget work sessions continue tonight, Tuesday Nov 6, (Election night) from 6:00-8:00 p.m., and Wednesday, Nov 7, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

Proposed additions to the existing GF budget:

Replace door to TYC = $7,500 Delay retirement of fire position = $20,000 Fire testing and equip maintenance backlog = $5,500 Building inspection-related training/travel = $1,000 Utility costs under-budgeted = $45,000 Utility rate increases for 2013 = $17,046 Refuse 25% cost increases all GF departments = $17,000 Workers’ comp insurance = $20,776 Heating fuel costs under-budgeted = $10,000 Heating fuel cost increases for 2013 = $2,800 Property, general liability insurance (8%) = $17,888 Health insurance (7%) = $80,343 Police equipment (radars $1400 each., video $800 ea., PBT $500 ea.) = $10,000 Police – SART exams (state grant not renewed) = $3,000 Public works department overtime = $10,000 P&Z and community development travel/training = $3,000 On-call engineering services = $6,000 Reduce TYC summer fees to 2011 levels = $10,000 Increased funding to senior center = $10,000 Host Obihiro delegation in 2013 = $20,000 3% employee cost of living adjustment = $117,007 New accounting software training/travel = $5,000 Clerk’s department equipment rent = $100 Move unspent City Code (codification) funds from 2012 to 2013 = $5,000 (net impact to budget is 0) Police department overtime = $22,000

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