Friday, August 17, 2012

Ketchum approves $13.5M draft budget

Public hearing set for Sept. 4


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council voted Monday to approve the city's approximately $13,553,000 fiscal year 2013 draft budget for public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 at City Hall.

On that date, the council will listen to public comments, questions and concerns, and is then expected to vote whether to adopt the proposed budget. The budget would go into effect on Oct. 1, the first day of the fiscal year.

In June, before the proposed budget was drafted, Mayor Randy Hall and City Administrator Gary Marks were optimistic about this year's budget, a rare attitude for municipal administrators these days given the current economic climate.

"I'm as excited as I've ever been going into a budget year," Hall said in June.

Hall and Marks presented an overview of the city's robust fiscal health to the City Council on June 4, including several budget objectives they wanted to see accomplished. The fiscal year 2013 proposed budget realizes each of Hall and Marks' goals.

The first budget objective was to maintain overall spending levels at or near fiscal year 2012 levels. This year's proposed budget is down 3 percent, or $424,017.

"The 3 percent drop in spending this year is due to a couple of expensive water and sewer projects that were conducted last year," Marks said in an interview last week. "Otherwise, this year's and last year's budgets are basically flat."

The second budget objective was to maintain the general fund balance at or above 17 percent of operating revenues. During fiscal year 2008, the general fund balance dipped to just 3.8 percent of operating revenues.

Due to extensive spending cuts—including the contracting of city police services to the Blaine County Sheriff's Office, the contracting of city building inspection services to the state and the layoffs of six city employees—the general fund balance rose as high as 31.2 percent of operating revenues during fiscal year 2012.

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"The 17 percent leaves enough money in reserve to have some breathing room in case something unexpected happens," Marks said. "Any more than that, and you've just got a bunch of money sitting around in the fund that could be used for another purpose."

During fiscal year 2012, the city spent or reallocated much of the extra money in the general fund, "burning the balance back down to 18.6 percent of operating revenue," according to Marks.

The third budget objective was to develop a plan to address Utilities Manager Steve Hansen's impending retirement and the transition to a public works director/city engineer position. According to Marks, the city plans to use Hansen's salary to hire a civil engineer who will be responsible for as much as 80 percent of the engineering projects currently being contracted out by the city. This would save the city about $3,400 per year.

The fourth objective was to appropriate $100,000 to the Ketchum Community Development Corp.'s Walkable Ketchum project. The council did not officially agree to this until they approved the draft budget during the meeting Monday.

"I'm in with the $100,000," council President Baird Gourlay said at the meeting. "It sounds like that will get us about what we need."

The $100,000 is enough to pay for the first two of three proposed funding "levels" for the Walkable Ketchum project. It was decided during a City Council meeting on Aug. 6 that the final level could be phased in over time after the first two levels were accomplished.

The last budget objective was to develop a "cost of living adjustment" for full-time staff. Cost-of-living raises were not given in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, though the consumer price index for the West rose by 3 percent. A 2 percent cost-of-living increase to the salaries of all full-time employees has been included in the fiscal year 2013 proposed budget.

Councilwoman Nina Jonas was the only council member to vote against the motion approving the proposed budget for public hearing.

"It was a little rushed," Jonas said at the meeting Monday, referring to the council's discussion of the proposed budget before taking action. "To say that we can go ahead and reopen the budget ... to take another look at it in the future is not good enough for me," she said.

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com

Ketchum to hire city engineer

Ketchum plans to hire a full-time public works director/city engineer to replace the city's utilities manager, Steve Hansen, who will retire in September. "I realized Steve's salary was large enough to use to hire an engineer," Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks said in an interview. Hansen, who has been with the city for 28 years as of last May and has received many raises, earned $93,466 last year. Marks predicts having an in-house engineer will save the city about $3,400 a year. "I'm looking for someone who not only has an engineering degree, but who also has on-the-ground, real experience managing [water and sewer] systems. We need someone who's going to be able to plug right into the position," Marks said.




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