Wednesday, May 5, 2010

City of Grand Island Drives Budget with Prioritization - Council Commends City Administrator and Finance Director

The Independent > Archives > News > Local > City cuts are forthcoming

"Councilmen Larry Carney and Scott Dugan praised Pederson and Brown for the prioritization process. They called it a logical and understandable method of making some difficult decisions to come."

City cuts are forthcoming
By Tracy Overstreet

Even Grand Island's most core city functions are facing cuts in the preparation of the 2010/2011 city budget.

City Administrator Jeff Pederson told the city council during a Tuesday night study session the program prioritization process recently revealed an interesting discovery -- Grand Island is already putting the bulk of its financial resources into its most core functions, also know as Quartile 1 functions.

"It's a very positive statement," Pederson said.

But it also means there's no apparent overspending on the city's least important functions that fall into Quartiles 3 and 4.

End result -- all four quartiles must sustain cuts amid a projected $3 million budget gap in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
To do all the cutting in Quartiles 3 and 4 would be "decimating" to those programs Pederson said.

He told the council Tuesday night he's called for a 2 percent cut in Quartile 1 spending, a 6.5 percent cut in Quartile 2, an 11 percent cut in Quartile 3 and a 16 percent cut in Quartile 4 functions.

That translates into an overall 6.2 percent cut -- a reduction of $1.8 million in city spending.

Besides the spending cuts the city must make, the city needs an additional $1 million to meet wages already outlined in labor contracts next year. That makes the $3 million budget gap, Pederson said.

He wasn't prepared Tuesday night to say what city programs will get reduced. That's a decision to be made first by city department directors and then ratified by the city council this summer.

But a release of the rankings of the city functions paints the picture of what's to come.

Quartile 4 functions include the likes of public education on fire prevention, the Community Youth Council, watering grass at parks, issuing pet licenses and handling admissions and concessions at Island Oasis Water Park.

Quartile 3 functions include things such as getting reference question help at the library, sealing pavement cracks in streets and patching potholes, as well as processing evidence from crime scenes.

"A lot of quality of life (functions) fall to tier 3," Pederson told the council.

The rankings of all the city's functions are based on mission statements and policy directives set by the 10-member city council and the city's department directors in intense meetings held a year ago.

Finance Director Mary Lou Brown said the wage increases required under existing labor contracts are putting "pressure" on creating a balanced budget.

But the budget that comes to the council will be balanced, Pederson said, and it won't have a property tax increase.

The budget is being built "on the revenue available."

"We don't expect sales tax to grow next year," Pederson told the council.

Because of the tightness of the budget, Pederson said it will be necessary to bond capital projects the city has already committed to -- most notably the northwest flood control project.

Pederson proposed issuing about $1 million to $2 million of debt each year for the next five years as "a bridge" to the year 2015 and 2016 when payments on the Wood River Flood Control project and the library expansion cease.
Without the debt financing, the city's capital projects such as major road construction and drainage efforts will virtually cease, he said.

Brown presented a detailed payment schedule to the council to show how the debt costs rise from the current $3.7 million to $3.9 million next year and then peak in 2016 at nearly $5 million. They then begin a steady decline before being completely paid off in 2026 -- the year after the Heartland Events Center is paid off.

Brown said the city could also issue a $1.1 million bond to rebuild the decaying Lincoln Park Pool, but that would require the support of the public in a vote.

The program cuts, city debt and overall capital improvements will all be presented in greater detail as the budget process moves forward, Pederson said.

Councilmen Larry Carney and Scott Dugan praised Pederson and Brown for the prioritization process. They called it a logical and understandable method of making some difficult decisions to come.

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