Optimistic thoughts 

The municipal budget, which like many cities has taken a beating recently thanks to the recession, is projected to show enough increase to begin to restore some positions cut as a result of the revenue shortfalls in previous years, said city Budget Director Craig Freeman.

The budget proposal at the next council meeting will be followed by budget presentations on May 24 and June 7, where the council will have an opportunity to interact with department and city budget heads and submit changes. The budget is scheduled for adoption on June 14, and will go into effect on July 1.

After several months of work, the city has finally received all of the various departments’ proposed budgets and is currently working to refine and consolidate them, Freeman said.

Coming off some of the worst years on record for sales tax revenue decline, the city has shown significant resilience and improvement compared to other municipalities, thanks in part to sales tax revenue from construction, insurance claims from the 2010 hail storm and better-than-expected economic growth, Freeman said.

“From this year, if you back up to fiscal year ’10, which was one of worst years we’ve seen for sales tax revenue … our expectation was we would come back slowly,” Freeman said. “What we’ve seen instead is stronger sales tax growth.”

Freeman said projections put next year’s sales tax revenue growth at between 4 percent and 4.25 percent, which is about normal. And that’s good news for the city.

“With the growth we’ve seen this year, that’s helped us to begin to recover from the recession. Then, what we’re expecting next year, we believe we’ll be able to restore some of the positions that were eliminated over the past two years,” Freeman said.

Over the past two fiscal years, the city eliminated about 136 positions and reduced several services, Freeman said, and it is estimated that city funds for fiscal year 2012 will total more than $900 million, an increase from the $875 million the city started with for fiscal year 2011.

However, while revenue is increasing, the city still has some holes to fill that were created during the lean years.

As part of dealing with the decreased revenue, the city relied on one-time federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus money, that will not be available this year to help plug some of the funding holes in its transit program. That money must now come out of the general fund, and will total around $2 million, Freeman said.

Meanwhile, about 100 police and fire positions this year were shifted from the general fund to the MAPS 3 usetax fund, which traditionally has gone toward funding equipment for public safety. During the run-up to the MAPS 3 vote, proponents promised use tax funds would go toward funding additional police officers and firefighters.

Those positions will probably be shifted back into the general fund, and the MAPS 3 use tax fund will be reimbursed, Freeman said.

“One of council’s priorities was to get off that as quick as possible,” Freeman said.

In addition, rising fuel costs will provide a challenge to the budget, Freeman said, but despite all of the challenges, positions that had been cut will more than likely be added back.

“We think the position adjustments will be widespread,” Freeman said. “One of the first priorities will be public safety positions.”

Through a federal grant accepted by the City Council, the city will be able to provide funding for two years for the 29 firefighter positions that were cut from the fiscal year ’11 budget, Freeman said.

“That will give us a boost to begin with getting those 29 positions back from a grant-funded source,” Freeman said. “The plan going into FY ’12 will be to get those (22 eliminated police) positions restored, and then restoring several other areas because we had about 85 positions between the midyear reductions in FY ’10 and the actual budget adjustments in FY ’11, we had about 85 non-uniform positions that were eliminated, so we want to try to get as many of those back as we can.”

While the city’s revenue has not returned to pre-recession levels, Freemen said it is making progress.

“From a standpoint of positions and services, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to get all the way back to where we were before,” Freeman said, “but with some of the opportunities we have, I think we’re going to make some good progress in getting there.”

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