CLINTON — After only one budget session, city leaders have found ways to shave dollars off proposed funds. While part of the goal in setting the Clinton’s limit on spending is to maintain as many services as possible, the city council made clear on Monday it’s serious about lowering its tax-asking for residents.
The council scoured through hundreds of financial pages trying to find ways to lower that rate, which tentatively stands at $16.637 per $1,000 in assessed property valuation. Although that’s roughly 8 cents lower than last year’s approved rate ($16.71), councilmen Tom Determann and Ed O’Neill both said they’d like to start making headway toward a $12 to 15 rate during their four-year terms.
“Ideally what we’d like to see happen is for it to get down to that level,” Determann said.
“If we save a nickel one place, 20 cents there, and the property tax levy gets down to $16 this year and $14 next year, I’ll be a happy camper,” O’Neill said.
The first of five budget work sessions was slated to take place for two hours. But council members had much to say about the initial figures they were presented — extending their workshop by more than an hour. In particular, the discussion over the Capital Improvement Projects slated for Fiscal Year 2015 featured a lot of fine combing.
A list organized by the capital improvement plan committee included updates to Eagle Point Park, funding street lights on Main Avenue and sidewalk construction on 13th Avenue North (in anticipation of the new Clinton School District’s middle school). Greenlighting those projects would mean the city would begin to pursue financing them this year, although their payments may not come around until the next fiscal year.
The council proposed cutting a $3 million project for a Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility Laboratory, and slashed $1.5 million off the $2.8 million proposed Pavement Management Program (PMP).
However, the latter drew a 5-2 split decision. Determann and Ward 4 councilman Paul Gassman were the dissenters.
“I’m just leery of cutting a program that the citizens of Clinton have been waiting for for almost 20 years and cutting it in half,” Determann said.
O’Neill proposed the PMP cut, which calculates to a 53 percent decrease in the program. He reasoned that it would be better to move the $1.5 million to FY2017 to ease the tension on the city’s current budget strain.
“The real point right now is to get rid of some of the debt we’re facing right now and make it more manageable,” he said. “Part of the problem in the past was no one could say no.”
The council sifted through small capital requests submitted by department heads. The projected total price for these projects is roughly $1.272 million, but a closer look at the numbers revealed that about 63 percent ($804,400) of the projects are covered through grants.
While reviewing transportation director Dennis Hart’s request to replace five city buses, the council lauded Hart’s ability to efficiently finance his department. According to the documents, 85 percent of his proposed $803,000 replacement requests were grant funded.
“I’ve seen you do this for the past eight years or so and I don’t think I’ve seen you spend any of the city’s money foolishly,” Gassman said.
Even while the council appeared to make headway toward lowering that rate, city administrator Jessica Kinser said nothing was truly finalized on Monday, including the rough estimate of FY15’s tax rate. And although the council appears to be headed toward cutting out roughly $4.5 million from capital improvement projects, only some of that decrease will appear on citizens’ tax rates if the cuts hold.
“Ultimately at this point we’re really focusing on what we’re spending this year,” Kinser said after the meeting. She estimated the $1.5 million taken out of PMP would decrease FY15’s rate by about 5 cents (per $1,000 assessed property valuation).
Meanwhile cutting the $3 million wastewater lab doesn’t directly impact the property tax asking.
“The $3 million is probably going to be no impact on (property taxes) because the way we stated that was that was part of a $17 million bond,” she said. “We’re still going to have project needs as part of a control plan if that’s not funded. So if that’s not funded, now we have $3 million to spend elsewhere.”
A final budget draft comprising all of the council’s discussions has until Feb. 28 to be published. In the meantime, those discussions will continue into next week. The second of five scheduled budget workshops is slated for 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27.