Escanaba City Council begins budget work

ESCANABA – Salary raises, as well as water and wastewater rate increases, are among the items being considered by the Escanaba City Council as it reviews the proposed 2014-15 budget during its second round of work sessions today.

Council is expected to wrap up its review of the upcoming budget at city hall today as department heads continue to present their financial needs based on anticipated funding.

Escanaba’s $28 million budget includes a $7.66 million general fund budget which represents the city’s day-to-day operations and a 2.56 percent decrease in expenses compared to the current general fund budget, explained City Manager Jim O’Toole.

“The department heads worked extra hard in being realistic with the budget considering the revenues and expectations of people,” O’Toole commented following Tuesday’s work session.

As is typical for most municipalities, personnel costs are the biggest part of Escanaba’s budget, said O’Toole.

This year’s outlook includes proposed salary hikes for administrators of up to 2 percent, a 4.3 percent increase in health premiums, and increased pension costs. In addition, five employee union contracts will be up for renewal in the new fiscal year.

Other notable upcoming expenditures include a new roof on the civic center using $100,000 from the Bonifas Trust Funds, said O’Toole.

New vehicles are being rotated into the city’s motor pool. Two new police cars and two public works trucks are among the line items at a total cost of $133,000. The wastewater department is requesting $275,000 for a sludge-hauling truck.

In the electric department’s proposed budget, the city is looking to use $366,242 to replace poles and $124,334 to replace street lights in various locations.

As in past years, the electric fund will provide financial support to the general fund. This year, $463,624 is proposed to be transferred to the general budget, said O’Toole, explaining this transfer allows the city to maintain programs and services without increasing taxes.

No tax hikes or rate increases are proposed for electric or garbage for the coming fiscal year but water and wastewater rates are slated to go up 2 percent.

A proposed 2 percent water rate hike would represent a 49-cent monthly increase for a residential customer using 5,000 gallons of water a month. A proposed 2 percent wastewater increase would equal a 37-cent monthly hike for customers using 5,000 gallons of wastewater a month.

O’Toole said the water hike would generate about $40,000 for the city based on $2 million in sales while the wastewater increase would represent approximately $25,000 in revenue based on $1.25 million in sales.

In addition to an annual $1.2 million for day-to-day road operations, $200,000 is being budgeted for street paving for 2014-15, said O’Toole. Additional road projects are proposed based on potential state funding.

“The streets are in need of help,” O’Toole told council. “We have been pushing very hard with Lansing on that but there is no agreement on a solution.”

Costs for road repairs as well as this winter’s damage to water and sewer lines remains to be seen, he said. Funding depends on assistance from the state; otherwise, these weather-related expenses – including 501 pipe thaws – will be absorbed in the current budget, he added.

Decreased state funding is already a major factor in the budget, noted O’Toole.

“The constant decrease in state revenue shares and the formula for state funding are two big concerns of mine,” he said, adding the legislature’s possible elimination of personal property taxes would further reduce city funds.

During Tuesday’s work session, City Controller Mike Dewar told council that state shared revenues have decreased from 26 percent of the city’s total revenues in 1985 to 17 percent in 2014. The city’s reliance on property taxes has increased from 42 percent of total revenues to 65 percent during the same time period, he added.

Administrators who presented their upcoming financial needs Tuesday included Electric Superintendent Mike Furmanski, Water/Wastewater Superintendent Jeff Lampi, Recreation Director Tom Penegor, Public Safety Director Ken Vanderlinden, Public Works Superintendent/City Engineer Bill Farrell, and Downtown Development Authority Director Ed Legeault.

Department heads scheduled for today’s work session include Library Director Carolyn Stacey, Community Preservation Director Blaine DeGrave, Human Resources Director/City Treasurer Bob Valentine, City Assessor Daina Norden, City Clerk Bob Richards and Marina Harbormaster Larry Gravatt.

O’Toole and Dewar will also present their respective budgets to the four-member council. Council accepted the resignation of Mayor Pro Tem Leo Evans last week.

Following any adjustments in the financial draft, council is scheduled to adopt the 2014-15 budget during its regular meeting on May 15.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,