The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 31, 2013

Clinton budget discussions: Options could create city budget surplus

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Severing agreement with Humane Society and contracting with All Pets puts budget in black

Clinton City Council members are considering several measures that would cut next years's looming budget deficit — one of which has the potential to singlehandedly move the budget from deficit to small surplus.

During the city's third of six budget workshops, Interim City Administrator Jessica Kinser on Wednesday presented possible money-saving options that would chisel away at the $71,879 deficit anticipated for fiscal year 2014.

Severing the recently approved $120,000 contract with the Clinton Humane Society and instead contracting with All Pets Inc. has the highest potential savings. With a projected $80,000 separating the recently approved subsidy and the one proposed by the local vet, the deficit would be eliminated. This option would bring the budget to a $8,121 surplus.  

“To put in real terms, if we approve this our deficit goes away,” Mayor Mark Vulich said. “In one action.”

The contract with the Humane Society allows either party to quit the agreement within 30 days. In addition to pursuing a contract with All Pets Inc., the council also decided to form a committee that would explore other money-saving options related to animal control. That committee has not yet met, leaving the potential savings unknown.  

Building permit fee increases could also have a positive impact on the budget if they are approved by the City Council on Feb.12. The anticipated revenue from this fund is $30,000. The outcome of the City Council vote won’t be known until the final budget session.  

City officials could also limit their training and travel to conferences in order to realize some savings. However, the specifics of what the $100,800 budgeted to these two items were not available at Wednesday's meeting for members to discuss.

“I will say training and conferences won’t be able to knock this out on its own unless we are completely reducing travel down to specific departments,” Kinser said.

A final cost-saving proposal calls for a 15 percent suggested wage increase for library employees to be lowered to 10 percent. According to Kinser and Library Director Amy Birtell, a large disparity exists between what library employees and the city’s other non-union employees earn.

“We need to support our people. We need to support the people who work at the library,” Birtell said. “We cannot hire qualified people at the wages we have now.”

If the 10 percent rather than the 15 percent raise was chosen, it would save $27,361.  

With a number of questions yet to be answered, the council did not decide which options to pursue.

City tinkers with tax levy

Clinton residents faced a higher tax levy than proposed last week by city officials due to valuation changes with two major entities.

But with temporary measures, that tax hike will be averted and the property tax increase will be less than originally anticipated.

Interim City Administrator Jessica Kinser learned last week that Home Depot had a valuation decrease that had a negative impact on a number of the city’s levies. Wild Rose, which is currently in a TIF area, also had a lowered valuation affecting the debt service levy.

While Kinser said both valuation changes had minimal impact on the various levies, that impact still sent the potential total levy above 17 mils, a threshold Kinser said she was trying not to cross.

In order to avoid setting a levy greater than 17 mils, Kinser identified two areas that would provide relief for the next fiscal year.

First, the Municipal Transit Authority saw an increase in the state operating grant it receives due to the increased ridership it experienced with the Ashford Loop. The city will be able to avoid an increase in the transit levy and levy for the same amount of dollars as it did last year due to this grant increase. However, because the Ashford Loop is no longer in service, this same increase will likely not be realized after this fiscal year.  The city can also use fund balances from the employee benefit levy that can be used to avoid the larger increase.

“It’s a one-time thing again,” Kinser said. “What we saw in fiscal year 12 is despite the fact that we didn’t collect all of it we had set out to collect when we levied taxes, we also made employee reductions that outweighed what we actually didn’t collect in taxes. So we did end up with some surpluses there.”

 Kinser said now would be the time to use some of the fund balances in order to keep the tax levy lower.

The levy called for at last week’s budget workshop was 16.97825 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

With the proposed temporary measures, the levy would be 16.80526, an increase of .54 from the current year levy.  The council unanimously agreed to pursue these options.