Parks get emphasis in city budget approved by committee

Sean C. Morgan

The City of Sweet Home Budget Committee on May 11 approved a budget for 2016-17 that includes an expansion in funding for parks maintenance and improvements.

The committee wrapped up discussions about the budget with the General Fund. The committee discussed Public Works, police and library funds two weeks ago.

Voting to approve the budget were councilors Bruce Hobbs and Dave Trask; Mayor Jim Gourley; and committee members Dave Holley, Diane Gerson and Andrew Allen.

Councilor Jeff Goodwin voted against the motion to approve the budget.

Goodwin disapproved of the final budget document because it doesn’t spend enough money in several areas, and the city is saving too much money each year.

“We’re actually taxing a lot of money and not spending,” Goodwin said.

In 2014-15, the city budgeted about $5 million in ending fund balances, about one-fourth of the total actual budget for the year. Ending fund balances are carried forward into the next year’s budget. The city ended 2014-15 with $9.6 million in its ending fund balances on a total budget of $19.4 million, nearly one-half of the total budget for the year.

For 2015-16, the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the city budgeted $4.3 million, a little more than one-fifth of the total budget, in ending fund balances. It’s projecting beginning fund balances of $5 million in the 2016-17 budget, which takes effect on July 1. Actual figures will be available following an audit later in the year.

“I have a budget where all the numbers are inflated, and I don’t know where they’re going to spend it,” Goodwin said. Some 25 percent of the budget is held in reserves, and the city is actually finishing with half of its budget in reserves.

This session, Goodwin asked the Budget Committee to increase funding for another detective, spend more in parks and set aside money for more crosswalks on Main Street between Clark Mill and Wiley Creek.

But he’s told the city doesn’t have the money, he said. “That shows that the budget is not well thought through.”

The Budget Committee was “more assertive” this year, Goodwin said, but it didn’t do enough.

It doesn’t reflect his priorities, he said. The city has the money to double funding for parks and put in playgrounds and other features at Strawberry Park.

“We have the money to hire a detective,” Goodwin said, adding that he thinks crosswalks are another big issue.

“The next time a kid gets killed on the street, I’m sending them a picture.”

“I’m frustrated with the process,” he said. “I’m frustrated with the budget as a whole. We’re doing a whole lot of nothing.”

The city receives gas tax money from the state, but it isn’t doing much with the streets, he said. Taking care of the city’s streets would cost $230,000 to $270,000 annually.

In the meantime, when the money is saved in ending fund balances, he said, it’s not being spent in the economy of Sweet Home. Hiring a detective means money is spent in the Sweet Home economy. In addition, the city is getting a terrible interest rate on the money it’s saving.

The community expects the city to spend public funds for the community’s benefit, Goodwin said.

That’s why he voted against approval of the 2016-17 budget.

Parks Maintenance

During the meeting on May 11, the Budget Committee spent most of its time discussing parks maintenance, part of the city’s General Fund.

The proposed budget grows from $171,000 this year, 2015-16, to $209,000 in the 2016-17 budget.

The majority of the increase in spending will go to Strawberry Park for infrastructure like parking and drainage, the first steps to a new master plan for the park.

In 2014-15, the city spent $112,000 in parks.

The budget includes $37,000 for Strawberry Park, $6,000 for irrigation in parks across the city and $7,000 for improvements to the BMX track at Upper Sankey Park.

Goodwin suggested spending more at Strawberry Park.

“I would like to make a meaningful accomplishment at Strawberry,” he said, a splash park, playground equipment. “I don’t want to put in a parking lot and not a playground.”

Right now, the Parks Board is focused on the first phase, setting the park up for further development later, said Allen, who also sits on the Parks Board.

“We need to do more sooner with parks,” Goodwin said. He would like to see it improved as soon as possible for the children in the community.

The proposed parks budget is already a pretty good increase, Trask said. He doesn’t necessarily have a problem putting more into parks, but this is what the Parks Board wanted after looking it over.

Sankey Park is where the city’s attention needs to be, he said.

“I can tell you the concerns from the public are Sankey, over and over,” Gourley said.

“And it shows,” Trask said.

Goodwin said he is concerned that the city has spent money in Sankey Park for years and neglected other parks. Sankey Park already has playground equipment and features.

“We haven’t put a lot of money into any of them,” Gourley said.

The city will complete a master planning process this year in Sankey Park, like it did last year in Strawberry, Allen told the committee. In the meantime, the Parks Board is getting its feet wet with major parks improvements this year at Strawberry.

The Parks Board and city will learn a lot from making improvements on a small scale this year, Allen said. To complete Strawberry’s master plan would cost $1.2 million.

The committee agreed that more employee time would improve maintenance in the parks system, and the committee voted unanimously to add a second parks worker. The committee converted the existing position to a municipal maintenance worker. The workers would be cross-trained, allowing the city flexibility to use the parks workers in other areas when needed.

With another worker, “we’d have a body to get things done,” Holley said.

While he is seeking improvements, Goodwin suggested that the issue could be manpower. Perhaps Public Works can do more of the planned improvements at the parks itself and save some money, he suggested.

Other Changes

The committee also voted 7-0 to transfer $80,000 to the city’s building reserve from the General Fund ending fund balance.

The city has used the fund to purchase and construct buildings, including a substantial portion of the Police Department and the Public Works maintenance facility off 24th Avenue.

This will be the first transfer to the building reserve in five years. For the past two years, the General Fund transferred about $500,000 to the Police Department to cover funding shortfalls there.

The committee voted 7-0 to transfer $5,000 from the General Fund ending fund balance to the city’s parks and recreation program for projects and improvements.

The committee also voted 7-0 to move another $5,000 to the city’s special events fund for new special events.

The city’s Sweetheart Run made money, Holley said. The city staff has a lot of ideas, and they just need a little nudge to help them along.

The changes reduced the General Fund ending fund balance by $90,000.

Goodwin moved to revisit discussion about adding another detective, but the motion died for a lack of a second.

The Budget Committee approved the budget with changes 6-1, with Goodwin voting no.

The budget moves to the City Council prior to June 30 for adoption.

General Fund Details

The General Fund is proposed at $3.15 million for 2016-17, down from $3.9 million.

On the revenue side, the beginning fund balance, money carried forward from the previous year is decreasing from a budgeted $1.8 million to $976,000.

Within the fund, spending in the city manager’s office has a budgeted increase from $246,000 to $262,000 in case a new city manager uses insurance coverage for a full family. City Manager Craig Martin opted out of family insurance benefits, said Finance Director Pat Gray.

In non-departmental spending, insurance costs are increasing from $149,000 to $165,000, but this area of spending is decreasing overall, from $1.02 million to $970,000. This reflects a decrease in funding set aside for buildings, from $100,000 to $25,000. That money had been budgeted to pay for possible improvements and repairs to City Hall and the City Hall Annex, which houses Sweet Home Municipal Court.

The $25,000 is budgeted to take care of possible expenses needed at City Hall this year, and it could also be used to help pay for moving Municipal Court to Sweet Home Police Department. If unused, it would be carried over to the following year.

Outside of changes in the parks budget, changes in expenses are relatively unchanged throughout the fund in the 2016-17 budget.

The budget does not reflect possible raises from collective bargaining, which is under way right now.