No utility hikes in proposed Escanaba budget

ESCANABA – Escanaba’s proposed budget for 2013-14 contains no rate hikes for utilities and garbage, no millage rate increases, no layoffs, and no decreases in services, announced the city manager on Friday after the draft was handed out to council members for review.

The 2013-14 financial proposal is posted on the city’s website, said City Manager Jim O’Toole, encouraging residents to review the document and express any concerns. Council will conduct budget work sessions on April 8-9 at city hall to fine tune the numbers.

The city’s upcoming financial picture is similar to the current budget year, noted O’Toole. The $28 million proposal includes the general fund budget of $7.8 million, which represents a 3.6 percent increase, he said.

“No millage increase is proposed in the upcoming 2013-14 budget,” O’Toole added, explaining the current property tax rate of 17 mils has been in place since July 1, 1988 even though the city is permitted to levy up to 19.89 mils.

“That’s a big deal,” O’Toole said, commenting he doesn’t know of any other local municipality which could say their millage rate has remained the same for the past 25 years.

The proposed budget is balanced and based on proposed state funding, the city manager added.

“We continue to be concerned about what the state of Michigan will do with revenue sharing for local units of government,” O’Toole said, specifically mentioning funding concerns for road improvements.

Redoing a portion of Sheridan Road is among Escanaba’s capital improvement projects. The city is expecting $187,500 from state funds to pay for the work along with $47,500 in local funds, he said. The proposed budget also includes $100,000 for local street paving.

Regarding the pending sale of the city’s power plant, O’Toole noted the budget is based on the facility selling as well as operational monies coming in from a regional transmission organization to allow the city to keep the plant up and running for the market.

As in the past, the electric utility fund will provide $463,624 of financial support to the general fund, according to the proposed draft.

“It is important to remember that this assistance allows us to maintain our level of general governmental services without having to increase taxes or further reduce or eliminate services,” said O’Toole.

In addition to road maintenance, the 2013-14 budget calls for $70,000 to go towards a new roof on the public safety building; refurbishing of Royce Park tennis courts is estimated at $13,000 in the proposed budget, O’Toole added, mentioning a couple expenses on the horizon.

O’Toole praised the city’s department heads for working hard on their individual budgets to increase revenues and decrease expenditures in the upcoming fiscal year.

Work began on the budget in January. Public comment has been encouraged on the city’s finances during public hearings at council meetings. Budget work sessions scheduled for April 8-9 and the following day, if needed, are open to the public.

Two public hearings on the proposed finances are scheduled in May. Council adopts the 2013-14 budget at the second meeting held in May.