Meeting for a work session Tuesday evening, the Park Hills City Council approved a property tax rate for the 2018-2019 fiscal year and began the process of developing the city’s budget by receiving proposed budgets from the city’s department heads.
Beginning the meeting with a public hearing on the property tax rate, the council subsequently voted to set the property tax rate at $0.6218 per $100 assessed valuation, the same rate as last year.
Getting into the meat of the meeting, City Administrator Mark McFarland provided the council with some context to the budget discussion that would be had during the meeting and in coming weeks.
“If you were on the council last year, you may remember I predicted back in September that we would deficit spend around $925,000,” McFarland said. “We have deficit spent $659,355.84, but we still have two months to go — the bills in August that haven’t been put in yet and all of September. We have a $91,000 fire truck payment and last month we spent $39,837 to pave various streets. Just with those two items added on, that takes us up to $790,523.29 deficit for the fiscal year 2017-2018.”
McFarland said the year before he was hired as city administrator, the city had deficit spent by nearly $2 million. Even though the deficit spending was reduced by more than half, McFarland said the council should try to keep next year’s budget as lean as possible to leave the city in good financial footing.
“This is something to consider, because when you deficit spend that much, your reserves drop,” he said. “If we keep going at this rate, it won’t be two and a half years and we’ll be sitting with no money in the bank. We’re going to have to do some drastic things to make this thing work.”
Saying that the majority of department heads and employees had done a good job in keeping under budget, McFarland said there were some areas that went over budget. But the real problem, he said, is the amount of debt the city has incurred.
“The thing right now that is hurting us is our current debt,” he said. “We have just a hair under $5 million of debt and we have annual payments totaling $596,776.76, so you’re talking more than half a million dollars that is going out just in payments.
“For those things, we have $91,000 a year on the fire truck with four years remaining to pay on it. For the East Main paving, we have about $140,000 left on it with six years to go. The Fairgrounds project is at about $685,000 right now with four years left on that. And the C.O.P. (certificate of participation) fund, we have $3.685 million on it.”
With current balances in the restricted fund of $845,968 and in the unrestricted fund of $1,856,891, McFarland said there are several options for the city moving forward.
“What’s the solution to this?” He asked. “Well, we can ask for another sales tax, which I don’t think would go over well. We’re already sitting at the highest sales tax rate in St. Francois County, so I don’t want to see that. We could ask for an increase in real estate taxes, and I really don’t want to see that.
“We could try to get more retail sales in town, which we’re trying really hard to do that and that would be great, but it won’t be anything really quick. Or we can reduce spending, which is my suggestion. My plan for fiscal year 2018-2019 is to drastically reduce spending and try to get this $800,000 to $900,000 as close down to zero as we can.”
The city’s total budget in 2017-2018 was $12.3 million, with McFarland saying he would like to see that reduced to a budget of $11.5 million in order to come as close to breaking even for the year as possible.
Before the department heads explained their individual proposed budgets, McFarland gave an overview of capital improvement proposals for the year from each department, including:
- A new roof on city hall
- Possible renovation of council chambers
- Two vehicles for the Community Development department
- A new GIS (geographic information system) for the Community Development department
- Four new vehicles for the Police Department
- A pavilion in Elvins Park
- A used passenger van for the Parks Department
- A three-quarter ton 4×4 pickup for the Parks Department
- A total of $267,500 of improvements for Public Works, including a dump truck and street sweeper
The year’s proposed capital improvements come to $1.896 million. In fiscal year 2017-2018, the city budget included $782,921 in capital improvements.
Beginning the individual department budget proposals, City Clerk Terri Richardson explained budgetary structuring, administrative costs and health insurance concerns to the council.
Community Development Director Robert Sullivan next presented his department’s proposed budget, which includes two new staff positions for the department.
“Both positions at one time were under this department in previous years,” Sullivan said. “One of those is another building inspector. The reason I chose to do a building inspector instead of a straight code enforcement officer is because I want both the building officials and myself to be able to do both building inspections and code enforcement. So if any of us are out at any time for whatever reason, all of us can take care of it. There won’t be any gaps.
“The second person we’d like to add is a building maintenance/construction foreman, or project manager, depending on what the official term ends up being. That person will provide maintenance and general construction activities on jobs here at the city, throughout the city, that are small enough that we don’t need full contractors coming in to do the job.”
In addition to the related costs for the new staff members, Sullivan’s proposed budget also includes two pickup trucks for his department and the GIS mapping system for use in code enforcement and tracking city limit changes quickly.
City Municipal Judge James Joyce and Court Clerk Tracy Fisher next presented their proposed budget, which Joyce said reflects no change from last year’s.
Economic Development Director Anna Kleiner gave the council an update on costs related to current and past projects, in addition to TIF districts and available grants for those projects.
Captain Doug Bowles of the Park Hills Police Department presented the department’s proposed budget, including a proposed three additional officers and related expenses, including equipment and vehicles. The department’s proposed capital improvements total $82,400, which includes four vehicles and associated equipment for outfitting those vehicles.
Fire Chief John Reeves next presented his proposed budget, which included no capital improvement proposals, but did see some increases for firefighter salary due to increasing call volumes.
“We were budgeted at $45,000 last year and we’re right at $53,000 for this year,” Reeves said. “So I budgeted $60,000 as the call loads keep mounting.”
Reeves said with the ongoing increase in call volume and disagreement from the city council on how to compensate firefighters, the city should consider changes in the future that would benefit everyone.
“One thing I think we need to start thinking about sometime in the future is figuring out how to set up some kind of full-time department for the city,” he said. “The call load is getting greater and greater. Since September 1 of last year, we’re at about 1,150 calls for the year.”
Library Director Lisa Sisk next presented the library’s proposed budget, which only increased by a few hundred dollars over last year, despite including a possible new LED sign.
“We need a new sign for the front of our building,” Sisk said. “If anyone’s went by our building, the sign is faded and rotten. We would love to have an LED sign. We got two different quotes, and the cheapest one was $13,000 for an LED sign. But I think I may have found a way to get a new aluminum double-sided sign as well as an LED sign for less then $5,000.”
Sisk said a local business had recently purchased a new LED sign from Amazon at a very reasonable price, which led her to check out the same resource. With an aluminum sign purchased from a local sign company and the LED sign ordered from online, Sisk said the total cost should be approximately $3,900.
Public Works Director Donnie Akers next presented proposed budgets for city vehicle maintenance, the street department and the sanitation department. Vehicle maintenance saw no significant increases in the proposed budget.
In line items, Akers said he increased improvements from $200,000 to $400,000, an amount that had previously been budgeted in the past before funds were transferred elsewhere. Also increased was storm drainage maintenance, which was raised to $100,000 from $35,000.
In capital improvements, Akers proposed the purchase of a “Broom Badger” street sweeper for $193,000, before trade-in, a hydraulic hammer attachment for the department’s backhoe and a new dump truck for approximately $60,000.
Dooley Politte then presented the Parks and Recreation Department’s proposed budget, which he said was not drastically raised in regular line items apart from $25,000 that was included for Christmas lights and decorations for placement in Columbia Park.
In capital improvements, the Parks department requested the construction of a pavilion in Elvins Park, a used passenger van for the work release crew and a new truck.
For the Senior Center’s proposed budget, Director Holly Buxton said there were additional funds requested for building maintenance. Buxton also noted that the center had served 2,381 additional people in the 2017-2018 fiscal year compared to the previous year.
Utility Director John Black explained the proposed budgeted amounts for revenues and expenses and the proposed capital improvements for the wastewater department, which include a sewage grinder, UV light replacements and a camera system for examining lines.
After hearing all of the departments’ proposals, McFarland recapped for the council members, asking them to give him direction as the budget process moves forward.
“We were talking earlier about reducing the budget for next year over this year,” he said. “I said I’d like to see it down to $11.5 million from the $12.3 million that we currently have. This present year we’re in, we spent $700,000 on capital improvements. What’s being requested tonight is $1.8 million in capital improvements.
“You councilmen are the ones who decide what direction I go in with this. Do we try to cut the budget? Do you give as much as you can here? I need direction from you guys because we have less than a month to get this thing ready.”
The council lastly spent several minutes discussing options regarding the municipal pool. Councilman Tom Reed requested that an estimate be prepared for the cost to repair the pool in case a bond issue to replace the pool should be denied by voters. They have not voted to go forward with a pool bond issue.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.