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2014-15 budget moves ahead after two days of hearings

2014-15 budget moves ahead after two days of hearings Tribune graphic by Tom Lawrence and Gary Staebler

The city of Powell’s 2014-15 budget process is nearing its conclusion.

The Powell City Council held a pair of budget hearings last week as the $18.2 million document nears official approval. The council must vote three times on it; the first such vote is scheduled for Monday night. The budget for 2013-14 was $17.4 million.

“I think it’s excellent,” Mayor Don Hillman said. “What pleases me about this budget is, we were dropping about $500,000 out of our general fund every year. If we had kept going like that, in two years we would have been broke. Plain and simple.”

The council had to hold the line for a couple years, Hillman said, but it is replenishing its reserves, allocating more money for special requests and investing in infrastructure.

He termed that a “huge turnaround.”

The general fund will be $7,357,748, compared to $6,561,825 for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The general fund increase is mostly from a $946,404 grant for Gluten Free Oats from the Wyoming Business Council. The money passes through the city of Powell to Gluten Free Oats.

The grant is paid back to the city, not the state, over a 30-year period. That money, as with previous community development block grant repayments, becomes a development fund for the city.

The state has provided $1.63 million for Powell for the 2015-16 fiscal years, a $40,000 annual increase compared to the previous biennium. That is thanks to Gov. Matt Mead pushing for increasing allocations for county, city and town governments, the council was told.

“I do appreciate what the governor has done,” City Administrator Zane Logan said. He said that could be added to during the 2015 session.

The largest chunk of general fund dollars goes for wages, with $3,109,863 budgeted for city employees in the 2014-15 year. That’s down from $3,163,869 in the current year, as some veteran employees retired and some other worker expenses were reduced.

The former city engineer, Sean Christensen, resigned and his job was not filled. Instead, the city has contracted with an engineering firm to provide services as needed while also asking other city workers to pick up some of the assignments. No cost has been determined for that, since it is based on usage and need.

“We have an opportunity to try this and see how it works,” Logan said.

There is no across-the-board wage increase this year, according to Hillman. Instead, employees are evaluated by their supervisors using a computer program that determines if any pay increase is justified.

The city’s revenue comes from myriad sources. The chief source is sales tax, with $1.795 million sent to Powell by the state for the current fiscal year. It expects to bring in about that much in 2014-15, Finance Director Annette Thorington said.

The city also took in $1,184,362 from the enterprise funds, which are labeled as management fees. The city will not increase that amount in the upcoming year.

Another $482,710 was brought in from utility fees from city-owned utilities, while the city received $110,000 from companies providing utility services to Powell residents and using city rights of way.

The city has a 5-mill limit for property taxes; it brought in $191,000 for 2013-14 and is expected to produce $196,000 during the coming fiscal year. The assessed value of the city for the current fiscal year is $38,186,504. Thorington said the tax revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year is based on the August 2013 assessment.

Logan noted Powell is located in the lowest-taxed county in the lowest-taxed state in the nation, according to a published state. He said he has been with the city since 1992, and Thorington has worked for the city for 27 years, and this is the first time the general fund balanced on the first try.

“That’s a pretty big step in general fund,” he said. “In the first attempt, it was balanced.”

Final approval is set for the June 16 council meeting.

Powell City Council approves $116,575 in special requests

On Wednesday, the Powell City Council gave initial approval to $116,575 in special requests (see chart above).

After rejecting some requests completely last year, or giving less than was sought, the council loosened the purse strings this time.

Crisis Intervention Services sought $5,000, up $1,000 from last year. Mayor Don Hillman recommended the same amount as last year, but Councilmen Floyd Young and Josh Shorb successfully urged the council to provide $5,000 for the agency, which assists people, especially women and children, in domestic abuse situations.

“Nobody else does it,” Young said.

The Powell Golf Club, which asked for $65,000, will get a $30,000 match for money raised by the club. The money can only be used for debt retirement.

“The sooner they retire that debt, the sooner this is over,” Councilman John Wetzel said. “It’s easily do-able. Put their foot to the fire.”

Hillman agreed, and pointed out the city also does in-kind donations with equipment, fertilizer, bug-spraying and manpower, about $6,000 worth in 2013.

The Powell Recreation District asked for $20,000 for the second straight year. It got nothing last year but received $10,000 this time.

“We really bit the bullet last year,” Councilman Myron Heny said. “We knew the city was really struggling.”

That’s not to say the city is now flush, he said, but it is in a better position.

The Powell Senior Center requested and received $15,000.

“They serve darn good meals for reasonable prices,” Hillman said. “I think that’s a good program.”

Director Cathy Florian thanked the council and said the center has seen steady growth.

Powell Valley Recycling did not make a request, but Shorb suggested providing it with $5,000. That sparked a discussion on how to persuade, or mandate, people to recycle. Heny said PVR is working with the Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce to get more businesses involved. He said even a 20-percent increase in recycling would be a great help to the nonprofit entity.

But in the end, the council decided to review what it does for PVR. The city collects $1.50 monthly on utility bills from residences, and more from businesses, and turns most of that over to PVR.

The agreement will be renewed in July. By that time, the city will decide if it wants to provide additional funding.

“I think that would be the more appropriate way of handling that,” City Administrator Zane Logan said.

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