After several workshops and meetings, and over 15 hours of discussion, the Fiscal Year 2013 budget is in the books.
The City Council moved to adopt the budget Tuesday night, after holding a public hearing.
No one spoke for or against the budget during the public hearing, but previous budget workshops provided ample discussion and occasional controversy.
Finance Director Jessica Kinser, working on her first budget for the city of Clinton, presented the council with line by line breakdowns of every fund managed by the city. A series of budget packets she distributed easily filled 2-inch three-ring binders to capacity, and provided detailed information about expected revenues and projected deficits in each fund.
One such projected deficit in the General Fund fueled week-long debate between council members and area residents. Kinser projected that the fund would finish the year $93,000 in the red if cuts were not made.
Among the cuts proposed were the elimination of three positions in the fire department.
The cuts would be realized by not allowing the fire department to fill three of six positions that are currently vacant. But department officials argued that not having a full complement of firefighters could have posed a risk to public safety, and could have forced the closure of one of the city’s three fire stations.
“Due to (a) staffing reduction, it is difficult to provide appropriate and effective services; in addition, the CFD is operating at a staffing level that has degraded our ability to maintain the personal safety we deserve while protecting the citizens of Clinton,” firefighters stated in an open letter to the public, published in the Feb. 21 edition of the Clinton Herald.
City Administrator Jeff Horne said he understood the firefighters’ concerns, but said that other city departments had already been “gutted.” With public safety costs making up an “unhealthy” 80 percent of the city’s proposed tax asking, Horne said the city didn’t have many more places to look for savings.
“I understand their points,” Horne said in February, in response to the firefighters’ letter. “My problem is you just simply can't spend money you don't have. I understand a lot of what they're saying. I don't dispute it.”
The firefighter positions were ultimately spared, after grant funds were awarded to purchase new defibrillators.
The purchase of the defibrillators had been one of the few capital purchases deemed necessary in FY13, and was to be paid for with part of a $500,000 capital project loan. However, with the alternate funding source, City Council members were able to move a building demolition project over to the capital project loan without increasing the amount borrowed. This move freed up enough General Fund cash to prevent personnel loss.
A projected Road Use Tax Fund deficit was not resolved as easily. Two street maintenance positions are expected to be cut, which, when combined with other cuts, should help offset a projected deficit of $231,492.
Kinser said that the revenue source for this fund is Road Use tax, which is based on a Department of Transportation forecast and the city’s population.
As Clinton’s population dropped as of the most recent US Census, that funding decreased. With increased costs of fuel, supplies and employee benefits, the fund expenditures are expected to greatly surpass the revenues.
Horne said that these reductions could be reexamined following the upcoming presentation of a Howard R. Green. The study was supposed to look at optimizing city services, and Horne believes it may present some money-saving possibilities city staff has not yet considered. The presentation of the study was set for the March 13 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, but did not take place as council members moved to send it to a future meeting of the City Services Committee.
Though the process was arduous at times, Kinser said this budget session showed several promising signs.
“This was a tough year,” Kinser said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning, “but process-wise, I think it will only continue to get easier.”
The council had never been privy to such detailed financial reports, Kinser said. Budget workshops scheduled to conclude in two hours ballooned to three- or four-hour marathons, as council members pored over breakdowns of budgets from every city department and fund.
Having had this experience, Kinser said that next year’s sessions should go more smoothly, and not require as extensive a time commitment.
“The council was very accepting (of the new budget format),” Kinser said. “There’s always going to be little bumps along the way.”
Increased public involvement is one of the council’s goals for future budget sessions, Kinser said. The idea for a “citizens’ budget academy” that would teach attendees the ins and outs of municipal financial planning has been considered as a way to increase understanding of city practics.
The city is on the “right track, financially,” Kinser said. The establishment of a contingency fund with 2 percent of the city’s expected revenue provides some wiggle room in the event of emergencies or unforeseen expenses, and the budget is balanced.
Just before the budget was adopted by resolution at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilwoman at large Jennifer Graf praised Kinser’s efforts to provide thorough information and lauded the locally unprecedented establishment of a contingency fund.
All budgetary outlines and materials from Iowa cities need to be submitted to county and state auditors by today.
Follow Ben Jacobson on Twitter @BJacobsonHerald.