City to hold workshops to finalize budget

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It is that time of year again when the numbers will be crunched and different requests will be considered as Elizabethton’s City Council works toward finalizing the city’s proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The first draft of the proposed budget has been finished, and the council’s budget workshops will be held at 3 p.m. today and noon Thursday. Today, Council will discuss the general fund and talk will turn to the utilities fund; water, sewer and electric will be addressed Thursday. Getting to this point has required weeks of hard work and considerations from the city’s department heads as they prepared their departmental budgets and requests to be presented to the city manager and finance director.

City Manager Jerome Kitchens presented the first draft of the city’s $89,776,978 budget to council last week. Of those funds, $16,165,702 is in the city’s general fund. The general fund increased by a little more than $1.8 million from last year.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The increase in the general fund came from a difference in revenues, which included $857,000 more in taxes, Kitchens said. These taxes were an additional $61,000 in property taxes, $168,000 in sales tax and $628,000 from in-lieu of tax payments.

“Since we did not budget any expenses against the increase, the whole amount will go to the fund balance,” Kitchens said. “We will move $102,000 back into debt service to cover the expenditure for the Ritchie warehouse and that will leave us with a little over $500,000 above our required reserves.”

In September, Council purchased the old Ritchie’s Furniture warehouse for $204,000 to convert into the Elizabethton Police Department offices in 2017. The amount at the time was split between the general fund and the debt service fund to cover the purchase price.

The fund balance has a requested $644,000 in projects in the proposed budget. Some of the projects listed include:

τ $100,000 for police department radios;

τ $90,000 for canopy repair in downtown Elizabethton;

τ $70,000 to repave the back parking lot of City Hall;

τ $66,000 for fire department radio upgrade;

τ $60,000 for a phone system upgrade;

τ $50,000 for raised crosswalks in downtown Elizabethton;

τ $44,500 to replace wiring in traffic signals; and

τ $33,000 to pave the front parking lot at Joe O’Brien field.

Other requests include a backflow preventer for sprinkler systems, street department radios, replacement of the pedestrian signal at East Side Elementary, security cameras at the city garage, carpet for half of the library, a playground surface for Harmon Park, playground swing replacements and picnic tables and trash cans.

“I do not expect the council to accept all of the above projects, but feel that after discussion and deliberation a significant portion will be funded,” Kitchens said.

The city’s water and sewer rate structure also will likely change in the coming budget year resulting in increased water and sewer rates to the city’s customers, Kitchens said. The city’s utilities funds operate as enterprise funds, which means the revenues raised by those funds must be enough to support the operational costs and needs.

“The city will not collect enough revenues to support the water and sewer operations in the present and the future,” Kitchens said.

The city has seen revenues from water sales decrease over the years, while operating costs continue to increase at a rate of 2.5 or 3 percent each year. Utility staff hired a consultant to study the rate plans of the departments, and the results will be presented to council in the budget workshop on Thursday.

“The challenge remains to identify exactly the right amount of reinvestment in infrastructure and enough operating revenue to fund an efficiently managed utility operation,” Kitchens said. “The purpose of the study is to plan into the future, especially to address the leaky water and sewer lines and replace processing equipment as it completes its lifecycle.”

Other expenses listed in the water and sewer budget include $307,802 for a vactor truck, used to clean the sewer system; $20,000 for a replacement sludge maker gear box, $5,000 to repair the roof on the chlorine building, $24,000 for a replacement pick up truck for water source and treatment and $45,000 for a replacement service truck for treatment and distribution.

In the electric fund, revenues are expected to increase by $1,538,000, with the majority coming from residential sales. On the expenses side, $110,000 has been budgeted for a new roof at the EED main office, $50,000 to replace cubicles in the engineering department and several replacement vehicles have been requested.