‘No fluff’ in city budget; General Fund expenses projected to reach $4.6 million for upcoming fiscal year

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The City of Raton will enter the new fiscal year that begins July 1 with a budget that is an overall $4 million less than the budget with which the city began the current fiscal year. However, spending in the General Fund, which contains the operational money for most of the city’s main departments, is projected to see a slight increase in the coming fiscal year compared with what has originally budgeted a year ago for the soon-to-be-completed year. 

The city commission last week approved a $12.9 million preliminary budget that includes $4.6 million in spending for the General Fund, which funds departments from police and fire to public works and administration.

The preliminary budget was to be sent to the state Department of Finance and Administration by the state-imposed June 1 deadline. State officials will review the proposed budget and may order changes if deemed appropriate.

In addition, city officials will likely make further adjustments to the budget before a final version must be submitted to the state by July 31. Some of the final adjustments the city will make will be based on ending balances from the current fiscal year once it ends June 30.

While General Fund expenses are budgeted to increase about 6 percent from the initial budget for the current fiscal year, General Fund revenues are being budgeted to increase about 9 percent, totaling a little more than $4.7 million.

As usual, the police department will make up the largest portion of the city’s General Fund spending, according to the 2013-2014 preliminary budget. The police budget of $1.36 million accounts for 29 percent of the General Fund. In addition, $312,297 is listed separately for dispatching. Combined police and dispatch spending will account for about 36 percent of the new General Fund budget if the figures in the preliminary budget stand.

The fire department’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year of almost $1.1 million places it second in spending at 23 percent of the General Fund.

Next, in line are the executive, or administrative, department at $645,673 and public works — which handles services that include street and parks maintenance, as well as sanitation — at $534,947.

Gross receipts taxes provide the city with the bulk of its General Fund revenue, almost 60 percent in the preliminary budget for the new fiscal year, with that income projected at $2.7 million. That projection is a slight decrease from the $2.78 million in gross receipts tax revenue the city projects it will collect for the soon-to-close current fiscal year.

Since 1992, the city’s gross receipts tax revenue peaked at $3.3 million in 2006-2007 and then declined four straight years before increasing the last two fiscal years prior to the current year.

Property taxes are projected to bring in about 14 percent of the city’s General Fund revenue the next fiscal year. Other taxes, along with various fees and some grants, contribute the rest of the revenue stream. Most grant money, however, is designated for specific projects outside the General Fund. Those grants — which cover a wide variety of projects — are budgeted next year for a total of more than $6 million. The preliminary budget also contains about $1.16 million set aside for loan repayments and bond payments.

The city’s General Fund revenue includes a new $6 monthly assessment that will be collected by placing the charge on monthly electric bills. The assessment was approved last month by the city commission and is expected to generate $273,570 for 2013-2014. The commission has identified the hiring of two additional police officers for the understaffed police department as the first priority for the new money.

At last Tuesday’s commission meeting, several local residents spoke against the implementation of the assessment, criticizing the commission for raising taxes “whenever you feel like it” and “putting the burden of past mismanagement” on the citizens. One resident called on the commission to “leave the citizens alone and find another way” to balance the budget.

Commissioner Sandy Mantz said she wished the new assessment was not needed, but with “no fluff” in the budget, and saying the current commission “inherited a very bad situation,” there are no more areas to cut back. She said she hopes the new assessment “won’t have to continue” after a while.

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Caldelario stressed the importance of coming up with a balanced budget, saying that if the city came up short on money to meet its needs at any time during the fiscal year, state officials could potentially take over the management of the city’s finances and possibly wipe out any city reserves.

The city’s new budget also includes a money-saving employee health insurance switch from the state’s Risk Management Division to a private company. The commission awarded its insurance contract to Century Financial of Trinidad last week. The annual savings are projected to be about $77,000 for the city and a combined total of about $35,000 for the employees themselves since they pay a portion of their insurance premiums.

Interim City Manager Butch McGowen said the city would “not have the money to make this budget” without the new $6 assessment and the insurance-provider change. Without those and other cost-cutting measures implemented in the new budget, McGowen said, he would have to “start releasing people.”

In approving the city’s preliminary budget for 2013-2014, the commission also approved the proposed budgets for Raton’s two franchised utilities. Raton Water Works plans a $2.1 million budget while Raton Public Service Company projects a budget of about $6.2 million.

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