Mayor Jim Boles and the City Council prefaced its work session, held Tuesday, May 8, with a picnic-style dinner. This special treat was a reward for department heads and employees who worked right up to the hour in order to have the proposed budget ready for perusal.
The two new Councilpersons—Peter Cake and Judy Howell—got their first introduction to the proposed City Budget, as John Roche, Winslow’s City Administrator, gave the initial presentation.
The total City budget for Fiscal Year 2004/2005 is $18,592,625, up $2,499,332 from the previous year.
Roche thanked the management team for their submission of what he called a realistic budget. He thanked Sheri Lancaster (Human Resources Director), Gina Reffner (Finance Director) and Pino Orozco (Accountant) for their hard work in providing an outline of the proposed budget.
According to Roche, Winslow residents will not see an increase to property taxes, though they can expect a very slight increase in utility rates—an increase measured in mere cents.
Further, a flat fee of 40 cents will be levied towards the cost of attorney fees for water rights litigation.
The addition of animal control services is a new item on the budget, Roche said, however this is more than offset by the fact that the number of city employees has dropped to 100—with no loss of service to the community.
“This is a remarkable accomplishment,” Roche said.
Thanks to savings gleaned from city employees taking on other job titles—most notably Suzy Wetzel, who will be performing the duties of both Administrative Secretary and City Clerk—and an increase in large capital projects, the City is in good shape financially.
Further, Roche praised several departments for their novel approaches to budgetary challenges. These included the Parks and Recreation Department’s efforts in generating public input for future projects, and Allen Rosenbaum’s application to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to convert solid waste to compost rather than having to pay to transport and dispose of this material in a landfill.
According to Reffner, the city would receive a two-year payback on the bio-waste project.
Other good news is that Winslow will see a new 52-unit affordable housing project due to the fact that the City received approval of a tax credit project from the Arizona Department of Housing (ADH).
Reffner expanded on Roche’s presentation, pointing out that the budget included unfilled, unfunded positions. These include three positions within the police department designed to address gang issues, as well as the cutting of weed seed positions due the loss of the grant that funded it.
Rather than take these positions out of the budget, it is easier to just leave them in, Reffner said.
She also explained the savings garnered by the city through leasing agreements for items such as fire department pumpers, police cars and a million-gallon water tank situated in Winslow Heights.
The replacement of the City’s seven-year-old street sweeper will also be done through a leasing situation—as this item will cost the city $170,000 alone.
Work towards replacing broken curbs and sidewalks continues, and funding has been budgeted that will allow city residents to speed up repairs to sidewalks and curbs adjoining their property more quickly.
“If people want to get their [curb or sidewalk] done sooner, they can pay 50% of the cost, and they can get it done sooner,” Reffner said.
She went on to address the category of subsidies
“There is a 10-year history showing non-city agencies that Winslow provides funding for,” Reffner said. “We have created a community foundation to allow these entities to seek their own funding and grants.”
The Chamber of Commerce, Old Trails Museum, Winslow Council on Aging and Little League all fall under this category.
Roche said that major capital projects under the City’s belt includes the first phase of downtown redevelopment, improvements Winslow Heights streets, and the Mike’s Pike extension from Hipkoe to North Park Drive.
The million-dollar expenditure towards the Route 66 Renaissance—including the placement of infrastructure—was justified in that the City expects quick returns for the investment.
Placing water and sewage lines beforehand will save the City a good deal of money.
“Repairs to the street and sewer cuts are expensive,” said Rosenbaum. “A contractor has the option of repairing such cuts himself.”
“It is the contractor’s responsibility to fix the street cut, or he can hire the city to do it,” Roche added. ”Most of the time, they ask the City to do it. So far the City has absorbed the cost for this.
Addressing a deficit showing of -$75,000 in the Airport Fund, Reffner explained that there was no need for concern.
“[Involving grants] there are times when we must pay the money up front, and it takes a couple of months to get that back. But we always do.”
“This is the best year we’ve had in awhile,” Reffner told the council and department heads.
Harold Soehner, Vice Mayor and Councilman, asked for definition of what constitutes part time labor.
Reffner replied that the City used to measure employees in “full time employee” units—two 20-hours-a-week employees would add up to one full time employee, for example.
“We have converted [this measurement] into hours so the heads of departments know what is available, and are able to use those hours where needed best.”
Soehner also inquired whether individuals hired by the City know up front that they are considered part time employees.
“We advertise up front that a job is part-time temporary. People are told that up front,” Reffner replied.
“If a full time job came up, are part time employees are welcome to apply for it?” Mayor Boles asked, and received assurance that part time employees can be considered.
In response to Councilwoman Howell’s question concerning the cemetery budget, Scott Lancaster explained that upkeep of its roads is not included.
“Most of the money goes into fertilization and seed,” Lancaster said.
Mayor Boles added his thoughts concerning unused part time hours as they relate to areas such as cemetery upkeep.
“If in the future, if we have some of these hours unused, don’t turn them back in—use them,” Boles enjoined. “There are areas in need of improvement, such as the cemetery.” This observation was not to be taken as criticism, Boles said, as he has heard nothing but praise for the young man who works there.
“There is just so much to be done there,” Boles added.
According to Reffner, the City of Winslow is ahead of the game in approving the budget. The next step for City Management is to transfer the information onto forms required by the state of Arizona, which will be done by June 22 at which time the City will hold a public hearing—though not required by law to do so.
Once the tentative budget is adopted, funding can be moved around or decreased, but there can be no increase in the budget after that point, Reffner told the Council.
It is estimated that by July 13, the process will be completed with the formal adoption of the final draft of the budget occurring on July 27.
Though the tone of the session seemed to lean towards further tightening of the budgetary belt, Reffner told listeners that the City doesn’t just make cuts.
“Sometimes we add more in—the City does not want to see a department unable to do its job because of lack of funds.”