City meets on 2017 budget


By Elyssa Haven - For The Newberry Observer



NEWBERRY – City Manager Matt DeWitt has asked Newberry City Council to allow his staff to focus more on enhanced customer service for the fiscal year 2017-2018 proposed budget.

DeWitt told council last week at their two budget work sessions that balancing the proposed budget was quite an undertaking this year given the rather flat growth in revenue over the past several years.

The proposed budget council discussed Tuesday was balanced without any recommendation for increases in taxes or business license fees. However, there were incremental increases in both commercial and residential sanitation service.

DeWitt said there had been no millage increase in over six years and outside of utilities, other services had held their rates flat since 2014.

Revenues in the general fund, DeWitt said are projected to be $9,843,453, which represents an increase of $344,780 over the current year’s projections. One of the larger fluctuations in revenue will be caused by an increase of business license collections, DeWitt said.

The city has recently partnered with Southern Resource Advisors, who evaluates and helps maximize municipalities’ business license collections by helping to find businesses that have done business in the city in the past, but had not paid for a license.

Taking that projection, DeWitt said along with the standard incremental growth shown by the fund historically, the city is anticipating collecting an additional $130,000 in business license growth in the fiscal year 2018.

Also under revenue, city staff recommended a small incremental residential garbage fee increase of two dollars per residential service in the upcoming proposed budget. The city’s last increase for this service came in 2014 when a three dollar per month step was taken.

DeWitt said the city still remains one of the most affordable options in the state at 10 dollars per month for three-day per week curbside pick-up that includes residential garbage, yard debris and white goods.

By taking the residential garbage fee up to $12 dollars per month in the proposed budget, it would put Newberry in line with communities that surround them and to help better cover the rising cost of providing the service. The adjustment would allow the city to maintain a very high level of service to their customers, DeWitt said.

After an evaluation of services conducted last year, DeWitt said city staff recommended eliminating the one free pick up each commercial bin currently receives in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

If the city currently picks up a commercial bin once every week, the customer only pays a bin rental fee of $23 dollars and does not pay for the weekly pick-up. Only if the business’ bin needs to be serviced more frequently does the cost of a pick-up and empty come into play, DeWitt said.

If one free pick-up was eliminated in a four week month, it would be $21 dollars for the overage and the continued cost of $23 dollars for the bin rental, meaning commercial customers would pay $44 for the month’s service. The proposed adjustment would yield an increase of $36,750 to general fund revenues.

“If you notify customers of this change over the next couple of months, it will give business owners time to decide if they want to go another route,” DeWitt said. “However, I still think they will remain with the city’s commercial service because we will still remain a much cheaper option than all of our competitors.”

General Fund Expenditures

The total expenditures in the general fund next year, DeWitt said were somewhat conservative, projecting to be $9,957,823 compared to $9,613,043 in the fiscal year 2017. This represents an increase of 3.5 percent or $344,780 from the current year to the upcoming year’s proposed budget.

Under the line item of City Manager, DeWitt said there was a decrease of $144,551. Some of this decrease is attributed to not hiring an Assistant City Manager when he was promoted last October. A portion of the City Manager’s salary was also moved into the Utility Fund for the City Manager’s oversight and involvement in the Utility Gross Revenue Fund.

Under the line item of Justice and Law, the proposed budget sees a decrease of $12,152 from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018. The decrease is reflective of a lower than projected state assessment as current revenues are not on track this year and the past several years have tracked behind forecasted projections, DeWitt said.

City staff reduced the number to be more reflective of what the city may actually be spending in State Assessments. Total funds requested in this department equaled $487,848.

The Planning and Development Services budget totaling $247,445 is planned to increase by $11,731 in the proposed upcoming budget which can be directly attributed to help with the demolishing and clearing of vacant and condemned properties moving into the new year.

The Police department’s proposed budget total is $1,914,605 and is proposed to increase by $21,138 in the new fiscal year due to an increase in call back and overtime to cover the fee increases guaranteed by council in fiscal year 2017. This coming year also marks the first year the general fund has budgeted for the Local Residency Stipend, which comes with a cost of $15,600.

Capital expenditures coming from the Police budget include the city’s typical purchase of four new police cars totaling $110,000. DeWitt told council that typically the city purchases four per year to be cycled out, each car lasting 10-12 years in service.

“We’re trying to keep them from getting too worn out where they become unreliable,” DeWitt said to council.

Another capital expenditure includes a $15,000 one-time purchase of Power DMS, a computer software used for Accreditation, which DeWitt told council would help digitize the police department’s accreditation process and make it a much less arduous task for officers to complete.

The budget for the Fire department is proposed to decrease by $92,342 primarily due to the elimination of capital expenditures. Total budget for the department is requested at $1,144,848.

Also under the fire department line item, council was reminded that the upcoming fiscal year would be the department’s last year of taking advantage of the SAFER grant that they obtained in April 2014 to pay for the salary of their Recruitment and Retention Coordinator. The grant runs through June 2018.

Fire Chief Keith Minick said he would be willing to try for the grant again, however it was originally designed to put new people in place within a given department, not to continue sustaining operations.

One option Minick said they could try was to see if the county would be willing to split the salary because of that employee’s efforts to recruit fire volunteers within the county as a whole so the county is also receiving a direct benefit.

In the interest of efficiency and saving funds, a new wing – Facilities and Grounds has been proposed to replace what was once the Building Maintenance department. DeWitt said it had gotten to the point where each department had someone or something to cut grass and that city staff was looking to consolidate these efforts. Combining employees from Public Works, Parks Recreation and Tourism, and Utilities, they will now perform maintenance as needed. A crew supervisor will be appointed to come up with a rotation so that everything is maintained properly and to a high standard.

“This plan will allow the city to utilize less equipment and people to achieve the same results,” DeWitt said.

Under the Public Works – Sanitation line item, the department has requested funds in the amount of $275,000 to replace a commercial front loader. It will replace a 2010 model as these trucks only last four to five years due to the type of work they are conducting, according to Mac Bartley, public works director.

Significant changes were made to the Local Hospitality and Accommodations Fund totaling $1,386,773 to include $295,000 for the new Oakland Tennis Center and $277,740 for the newly proposed recreation complex. Revenue received through this fund is transferred to other funds for promoting tourism.

Under Community Housing and Development expenditures, $350,000 is proposed to the new Oakland Tennis Center, $500,000 to the newly proposed recreation complex, and $200,000 for the development of Willowbrook Park to include updates to the scout cabin, and the park’s shelter and bathroom. The department’s budget is proposed to total $1,058,454.

Another major project the city is pursuing is a walking path from the Greenway Trail to Newberry Middle School.

“We will pay for this walking path improvement through savings and grant funds,” DeWitt said. “We feel providing students with safe routes to schools is important.”

Under the Oakland Tennis Center Complex expenditures, the proposed budget contains $794,464 and includes the capital cost of completing the complex.

The proposed budget for the Recreation complex contains $777,740 and will fulfill the city’s $1.5 million contribution to the project as promised by the city during the Capital Project Sales Tax process.

Utilities

The Utilities budget is 77 percent of the total city budget, Tim Baker, utilities director said Wednesday night during their budget work session.

“It’s a very significant piece,” Baker said.

The total estimated utilities gross revenues in the fiscal year 2017-18 are $38,277,242 compared to $37,232,450 in fiscal year 2016-17. This represents an increase of $1,044,792 or 2.8 percent.

Retail electric base rates will remain the same again this year, Baker said, however the city will continue to use the Wholesale Power Cost Adjustment (WPCA) to pass through purchased power costs.

Retail water and sewer rates are not budgeted to increase in the proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget. However, revenues are expected to increase by two percent due to a rate structure change.

Under the line item of Gross Revenue Debt Service, it is projected to increase by $167,208 and is attributed to variable rate debt service.

For City Hall expenditures, the budget shows an overall increase of $17,130 for building and equipment repairs such as window tinting and pressure washing. Baker said the tinting of the windows may reduce some of the building’s energy costs this summer.

The proposed budget for the Finance Division shows an increase by $134,265 and is mainly attributable to increased software costs and to the city’s new PrePay billing system that is expected to go live on July 1.

A significant change under the Utility Administration Division, totaling $496,288 is recommended to increase $233,702 or 89 percent relative to last year’s budget. Baker said the increase is coming from the reorganization in job duties and the movement of a portion of City Admin salaries to the Utility Administration division based on the percentage of work they do for the utility department.

Under the Information Services Division, which totals $132,952 shows a decrease of 5.8 percent or $7,728 relative to the fiscal year 2016-17. The decrease comes from having the position of Network Administrator included. Baker said they would be looking for that skill set among a new hire of the Assistant Utility Director.

The Electric Division totaling $1,044,005, is recommended to increase $76,467 or 7.9 percent, relative to FY2016-2017. The increase comes from salaries, wages and maintenance contracts.

Due to savings on vehicle fuel and from equipment repairs, the Water and Sewer Distribution Division, totaling $992,672 is proposed to decrease $27,834 or 4.5 percent relative to fiscal year 2016-17.

Utility Capital Fund

The Utility Administration Capital Budget, totaling $238,850, Baker said is recommended to decrease $152,400, or 38.9 percent compared to fiscal year 2016-17. The decrease comes from the removal of funding for costs related to the utility billing system and network equipment.

“We spent a lot in the up front development, so now it’s dropping off,” Baker said.

Compared to fiscal year 2016-17, the Electric System Capital line item totaling $1,060,000 is recommended to increase by $90,000 or 9.3 percent due to contract labor to assist with reworking the city’s electric distribution system and building the fiber network.

Because of the completion of the West End rehabilitation project, the Water System Capital budget which totals $875,000 is proposed to decrease $130,000 or 12.9 percent compared to last year’s budget. According to DeWitt, only some of the curbing still needs to be completed in the West End area.

“It already looks so much better,” DeWitt said. “Once we get that [curbing] fixed, it will look very nice.”

Construction continues, Baker said from the 2015 bond issuance. Funding of $14,719,375 is proposed in this year’s budget to complete the city’s Water Plant rehabilitation project, continue the Scott’s Creek sewer rehabilitation, complete various water distribution rehab projects and the construction of both a water storage tank and a second electrical substation.

“The addition of the second electrical substation will add increased reliability and redundancy for us to continue to serve our customers with the reliable electric service they expect,” Baker said.

By Elyssa Haven

For The Newberry Observer

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