Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bellevue?s financial woes continue

Council members look to make cuts despite levy increase

Express Staff Writer

Though the city will add $200,000 to its coffers as a result of a recently approved levy increase, Bellevue is facing another tight fiscal year.

At meetings on Thursday, July 12, and Monday, July 16, council members poured over the projected $1.3 million budget for fiscal year 2008 in an attempt to trim $148,000 out of the city's expenses.

A significant cut, in intent if not amount, was the councils' unanimous vote on Monday to decrease council members' own wages by half, meaning they will each take in a mere $100 per month, saving the city $7,200 next year. By comparison, Hailey council members are slated to earn $800 per month in 2008.

However, they might not be the only city employees facing pay cuts.

City Administrator Tom Blanchard said department heads will be asked to find approximately 5 percent savings within their budgets by July 26, the date the council is required by law to set the city's budget. However, he said that percentage could change once the city clerk calculates the exact deficit amount remaining after the recent cuts.

Blanchard said the council reduced the deficit to under $70,000 by the end of Monday's meeting, but "hit a wall" trying to find further ways to balance the budget prior to its next meeting on Thursday, July 26.

While council members and city department heads have spent difficult hours shaving down any items deemed nonessential, the usual goal of increasing departments' budgets by 3 percent per year could turn into a 2 percent reduction, Planning & Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles said. That means department heads will have to make tough decisions about where they can spare funds.

One major cause for the city's financial woes is a requirement to pay off more than $50,000 of a matching grant for the renovation of Bellevue Memorial Park.

Blanchard said there will be an approximately $15,000 budget adjustment in the general fund that will be carried over to the upcoming fiscal year, but he will have to wait to get an exact amount before that can be factored into the new budget.

"They're getting close," City Clerk Dee Barton said in an interview. "However, they will have to address it with a vengeance on the 26th."

Councilman Steve Fairbrother said that in an effort to cut costs for upcoming years, the city needs to look at possible consolidation, not only of the fire department, but of the marshal's office as well.

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