The Powell City Council gave initial approval to a $17.5 million budget last week and will consider it for a second time Monday. If approved a third time on June 17, the 2013-14 budget will take effect July 1.
Similar to recent years, the city’s budget includes cutting costs and putting projects on hold. In three years, the city has reduced its general fund expenses by about 18 percent to match revenues that declined at about the same rate.
What’s different is the city expects to save more in the coming year — returning an estimated $230,000 to its reserve funds. In recent years, despite cuts, the city had to take money from reserves to balance the budget. That left reserves teetering at an estimated $1.1 million — a cause for concern among city leaders.
“We want to make sure that, at the end of June 2014, we’re at $1.3 million (in reserves),” said City Administrator Zane Logan. “That’s not a huge number, but it’s better than $1.1 million … it’s definitely going the right direction.”
Raises this year and next
Money going into reserves is thanks to the current year’s budget, because its estimates turned out to be conservative, with some $286,000 leftover.
With the $230,000 going to reserves, city leaders want to use the remainder of the additional funds to give employees the raises they would have received this year if not for a freeze in pay.
Employees also would have the opportunity to earn another raise next year. Raises for the city’s workforce will cost an estimated $56,165 this year, and roughly $57,000 next year.
“I made sure, obviously, that there was money back in the general fund, or we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Logan said.
If approved by the City Council next month, employees will receive a one-time check in June for their 2012-13 raises. The amount is based on when they were evaluated and how they scored on the city’s grading system.
For example, if a city employee underwent an evaluation in January that showed they earned a 3 percent raise, that employee will receive six months’ worth of that raise in June.
A new fiscal year then begins in July, and when employees are reviewed next year, they’ll have the opportunity to receive a merit-based increase.
Mayor Don Hillman noted that employees will not receive cost-of-living adjustments to their salaries. Those increases, often called COLAs, are based on the inflation rate for northwest Wyoming. Hillman said he prefers merit-based raises to COLAs, because they’re earned, not automatic.
The city established an extensive evaluation system in 2008 to gauge employee performance and to calculate merit-based raises. The program is based on similar-sized communities in the region to accurately compare pay scales, Logan said.
“Since then we’ve only used the merit system a couple times, and then we froze it,” Logan said.
The last time city employees received the merit raises was in 2011-12.
Suspending the merit-based raises has put long-term employees behind on the city’s evaluation and merit program, Logan said.
“I believe the city employees on a whole do a better than average job, but most of them — a lot of them — aren’t being paid at the proficiency (rate),” Logan said.
On average, employees will earn about 3.5 to 4 percent increases, based on their individual evaluations. Not everyone will receive the merit increase, Logan said.
Logan said the city’s workforce is a “huge resource for the city and our community.”
“If we try to keep the rest of our infrastructure healthy, and if we expect above-average performance from our employees, we have to at least treat them fairly,” Logan said. “It’s not just an automatic thing. It’s something they had to be scored on and earn.”
During a budget work session earlier this month, councilmen agreed to move forward with the proposed merit raises for this year and next year.
Mayor Hillman said the city competes in the labor market and needs to be conscious of that.
“I believe as a municipality one of our greatest assets is our employees,” Hillman wrote in his online Message from the Mayor. “The bottom line is they are the ones who make it all work. Because of them Powell is what it is, a clean safe place for us to live, make a living, and raise our children.”
To trim the budget, the city is cutting back on overtime for employees.
There will be no overtime for snow removal/sanding. However, the city’s street sweeper, who begins at 3:30 a.m. on normal workdays, will prioritize sanding in critical areas and school bus routes on snowy days. The city also is suspending next year’s downtown walk wash, when crews work in the middle of the night to clean downtown area sidewalks.
In the Parks Department, employees will prepare baseball fields during normal working hours only. The city has met with local baseball teams, who will now be responsible for field preparation on nights or weekends. To further trim costs, the city is reducing the number of part-time summer employees, so general mowing and maintenance of parks and public areas also will be reduced.
Logan said the city isn’t cutting back on any essential services it provides, but it is trimming back on accessory services that evolved over the years.
“They’re just things that have been above the average that normally aren’t done in communities,” Logan said.
The city restructured its full-time staff at the Powell Aquatic Center, reducing expenses there by about $90,000. The city also increased fees at the facility, and will do more to market the pool.
With the exception of one new police car, the city is not buying or replacing any major equipment next year, Logan said.
“We seriously needed two or three, but in order to do the budget, we’ve convinced the chief to only do one,” he said.
The city also is suspending the Division Street waterline project. The city had planned to replace the waterline and widen the street, using a state grant to help fund the project. Originally, they expected the grant to cover 75 percent of the project cost, but state funding was reduced later to 50 percent.
With the decrease in funding and all of the other projects requiring city staff’s time and attention this summer, the project was postponed.
“We’ve got the transfer station and the terminal building at the airport. Those are two big projects, and especially the transfer station — that’s a high priority to get done by winter,” Logan said.
Engineering for the Division Street project was completed and will be available when needed, Logan said. More grant funding may be an option in the future, too.
Amid budget cuts, Councilman Josh Shorb earlier this month proposed lowering councilmen’s pay by 5 percent, saying it’s important for the council to cut back while other city departments trim their budgets.
Councilmen cannot lower or increase their wages while in office, so the pay decrease would affect councilmen in the future, but not the current council. It also would require an ordinance change, said City Attorney Sandra Kitchen.
Councilman Myron Heny suggested cutting the council’s budget in other ways, and councilmen agreed to trim 5 percent from training and travel costs for the coming year.
City councilmen consider the city’s overall budget again Monday at City Hall. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.