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City budget balanced, but remains uncertain due to state

Road improvements and raises for city staff likely on the way
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn?s general fund revenue for next year could increase by over 4.5 percent to $8.6 million, according to a report on the budget prepared by city staff. In their report to the city council, Bob Richardson, city manager, and Andy Heath, administrative services director, proposed expenditures of $8.47 million, a 34 percent reserve and an aggressive plan for capital improvements. They also announced plans to give employees a raise, which will total $120,000. The raise also includes a 5 percent increase for the cost of medical benefits. The city?s overall budget is $20.24 million. It includes expenditures for the general fund, capital projects, enterprise funds, special revenue and RDA property tax funds. Council members say they are pleased with the proposed budget, but aren?t sure yet how the state budget?s crisis could impact Auburn. They will vote on the budget during the next city council meeting on June 25. They are inviting feedback from the public at or before the meeting. Mayor Kevin Hanley said last year since the state couldn?t take money away from redevelopment agencies like Auburn?s, it voted to abolish them altogether and redirected their funds to the state budget. The uncertainty of the state budget is one reason he supported increasing reserve funds from 33 percent to 34 percent. ?That is really important because the state is going to come out with a budget on Friday and it?s not going to be a real budget because it?s going to depend on the governor?s proposal to raise income and sales taxes,? Hanley said. ?Come November, if the voters decide against it, the state is going to scramble and look at healthy cities like the City of Auburn.? In the report, city staff said some of the possibilities are that the state could eliminate the $100,000 COPS grant to local government, booking fee subvention to counties, currently totaling $67,130 or push-down programs typically administered by the state to counties and cities. General fund revenues for the city in fiscal year 2012-2013 are expected be higher than those projected to come in for 2011-2012 because of an anticipated increase in sales tax due to higher fuel prices, according to Heath. Meanwhile, property tax revenue is expected to remain relatively flat. With the current positive economic forecast, the city has outlined a plan for capital improvements. Among those will be sewer improvements and a road overlay. As a whole, the proposed budget includes $6.72 million allocated to capital improvement and outlay activities. Many of these projects were deferred during years of economic difficulty. ?With the city?s stronger economic climate, we are able to schedule a broader array of projects,? Richardson said. ?Palm Avenue expansion and sidewalk project is one primary project site.? Richardson added that proposals related to the street overlay will be submitted for decisions by city council in the coming weeks. Councilmember Keith Nesbitt said he was happy with the budget because it is balanced, puts money back into reserves and addresses community needs. He is pleased that city employees will see raises in light of the reductions and pay freezes they have taken in years past. The four percent raise, which most of the city?s labor groups have accepted, amounts to a total of $120,000, according to Richardson. In addition, the city has budgeted for a five-percent raise in the cost of the city?s contributions to employee medical costs. A total figure was not available at press time. ?I am pleased that we have been able to give a one-time, four percent raise to employees,? Nesbitt said. ?They took a 10 percent cut across the board a few years ago and while we are having a good year we want to thank them for weathering the storm and finding ways to run things even more efficiently.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.