Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ketchum stays conservative on budget

City’s draft plan set at $13.5 million

Express Staff Writer

Despite an austere budget, Ketchum's city officials are nonetheless expressing satisfaction with proposed numbers for fiscal 2011-12 because they meet goals that the mayor and City Council set earlier this year.

The proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012, is $13,457,153. That's a 0.2 percent decrease from the current fiscal year's budget.

Of the $13.5 million, $12,180,826 is the operating budget—which includes personnel expenses, materials and services, debt service and contingencies. The proposed operating budget is 1.3 percent less than the fiscal 2011 operating budget. The remainder of the budget, $1,276,327, is for capital expenses. That proposed amount represents a 27 percent increase from the current fiscal year, an increase due to capital improvements.

"There's no question about the fact that these are very, very uncertain times," said Council president Larry Helzel. "We have to maintain a conservative stance."

City Administrator Gary Marks developed the budget. Mayor Randy Hall reviewed it, made some amendments and endorsed it. Marks presented the proposed budget to the City Council at a special meeting Monday.

"It really is a financial plan for nearly everything we do as a city," Marks said.

The budget includes 21 smaller budgets for departments such as Community Planning and Development, Water and Wastewater, Police, Fire, Streets, and Parks and Recreation.

The council had identified budgetary objectives this spring for the coming fiscal year. Those goals included maintaining overall spending levels at or near fiscal 2011 levels, maintaining the general fund balance at or above 17 percent of operating revenues and creating separate capital improvement funds for streets, parks, fire and law enforcement.

Those goals have been accomplished, according to a budget summary Marks presented to council members.

"We continue to manage our budget conservatively," Marks said in an interview. "It's balanced. There are no cost-of-living increases. The budget maintains current levels of service to the community in all areas."

Department heads provided overviews of their activities and requested funds for general operations and hoped-for projects.

The Community and Economic Development Department is seeking $90,000 in the next fiscal year to update the city's comprehensive plan, a guiding document that outlines goals and policies for growth and development. Another $67,000 may be requested next year for the remainder of the process.

Staff plans to kick off the public-participation portion this fall.

"There'll be lots of meetings, there'll be lots of outreach," said Planning Manager Joyce Allgaier.

Other aspects of the plan's update include establishing a steering committee, creating economic analyses, reports and land-use maps, and crafting a draft for review and adoption.

Steve Hansen, Utilities Department manager, is proposing a 4.9 percent across-the-board increase in water rates. That revenue is needed to fund capital improvements.

Capital projects requested for the coming fiscal year include repairs to broken water lines, meter-reading upgrades, installation of a new standby generator for water operations and administration buildings, and replacement of the Warm Springs booster station standby generator.

"I can't guarantee that it will run the next time we need it," Hansen said.

Jen Smith, Parks and Recreation director, told the council she is hoping to create a nonprofit parks foundation. Though people can give money to municipalities, some donors are not comfortable doing so, she said.

A foundation would give people an alternate way to make donations to parks and recreation projects or activities.

Local-option tax receipts for fiscal 2011 are projected to come in over estimates. The fund balance may have a surplus of $94,000. Marks said he supports keeping that money in reserve in the event that receipts, based on economic activity, decline in the coming months.

"It really is fairly unknown where the economy is going," he said.

The council debated whether to allocate that money to external contracting agencies. Organizations that can receive revenues derived from LOT collections are the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, Fly Sun Valley, Mountain Rides and the Ketchum Community Development Corp. Most have asked the city for more funds than they did the previous year, with the exception of the Ketchum Community Development Corp.

"We are looking to keep our expenses flat this year, given our current success in regards to our return on investment and the tight economic times the city is facing," Executive Director Jon Duval told the Idaho Mountain Express.

The $94,000 could be kept in reserve, spread evenly among requesting agencies or given to one or two groups.

Helzel and Councilman Curtis Kemp said they may favor some extra money going to marketing activities.

"We need to fund our marketing," Kemp said. "That's the No. 1 issue on this (LOT) list here."

The council will discuss at its Aug. 15 meeting whether to dispense those extra LOT funds or to keep them in reserve.

A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for Sept. 6.

Rebecca Meany:

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