Winslow residents, neighbors will feel effects of economy

WINSLOW, Ariz. - Staffs of the city of Winslow are making an effort to warn citizens of the town and those who shop in Winslow and depend to some extent upon city services that there may be some changes in order to operate with an adjusted budget to meet the needs and still operate under a balanced budget.

The city of Winslow has been fortunate so far in not having felt greatly the effects of the county's economic problems. Many cities, including quite a few in Arizona, have laid off personnel and cut essential services in order to meet their budgets as the economy has  led to a loss of revenue to continue operations as was the case a few years ago.

Unfortunately, the trend towards a declining amount of revenue coming in had the mayor, city council and staff looking at ways to cut expenses at the recent strategic planning session held to share ideas before planning next year's budget and priority projects.

There did seem to be a consensus that cutting personnel would be one of the last things the city should do to meet the crisis. That would make it likely that there would be programs which were cut back and even eliminated. Salaries might be lessened. Projects which have been planned might be delayed and possibly even dropped.

Finance Director Regina Reffner noted that the city had taken measures to reduce spending in recent years without laying off personnel. The funds coming in during the current fiscal year were some two million dollars below the previous year's figures. The city cut its expenditures by the same amount and still avoided the most drastic of cuts. Unfortunately, the general fund estimates of incoming revenue for the current year are down another 14 percent and could be even greater depending upon what the state does to meet its budget crisis.

Ironically, the city has enjoyed some much needed street repair and building projects during the past year especially. This was made possible by the availability of grant and turn-back funds, which come from state and federal sources.  Most of these funds were obtained when construction costs were much higher than they are now. As a result, the city is able to get the work done at a much more reasonable cost and could not use the funds for other purposes anyway.  The grant funds being used to work on streets and sidewalks cannot be used in place of general funds to, for instance, pay a policeman's salary.

Almost all of the city revenues have decreased. The general fund is receiving 14 percent less revenue. Much of this is due to the lesser amount of shared taxes from the state. The local sales tax revenue was stable last year but has now begun to show a decrease. The airport revenue fund is down a whopping 40 percent, mostly due to the state keeping the share of the lottery funds which have gone to the city in the past. The water fund also had a significant 37 percent decrease. The sanitation fund had a slight three percent decrease. The highway user funds are down 12 percent. The wastewater fund is down five percent and the capital project fund is down four percent.

Reffner said that staff had been asked to prepare for a 14-15 percent cut to match the cut in funds expected to be received. The police department estimated that this would require a reduction of seven officers. This was not seen as a reduction that could be made without having severe negative effects upon the city.

There are some services which are likely to be cut back, delayed or cut out. One of these Reffner sees as logical is the closing of the indoor pool which is expensive to heat. She estimated that closing of that pool would lessen expenses by approximately $100,000.

Another project which may be modified and delayed is the new library. Reffner said that the installing of a new roof on the building to protect the property may be necessary but that most of the other work planned there could and probably should be delayed.  It may well be that the library will remain in its present location for longer than anticipated.

The city, like many others, will continue to hope for an improved economy, which will see more people working and paying taxes. The coming of an industry to provide more jobs is a possibility. The private prison complex for which Winslow is competing would help greatly with the city's ability to provide the services the citizens need and expect. That project is at least half a year in the future, though, even if Winslow is selected. The competition is greater now because other cities are feeling the effects of the recession and are competing for the prison project.

The state government sharing funds as it has in the past and was expected to do in the future would help greatly.  State revenues have decreased greatly in the past and there does not seem to be much planned to increase those revenues.

Winslow can feel fortunate that the cuts in personnel, salaries and services which many cities have experienced have not happened here. On the other hand, Winslowites should realize that they are likely to see fewer services, some salaries reduced and projects delayed until the nation's economy changes for the better.

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