La Plata council tackles FY18 budget in first meeting
During a May 9 work session, the La Plata Town Council was hit with a proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget that they must review and pass in three weeks.
The Town Treasurer Robert Oliphant and Town Manager Daniel Mears presented the proposed general funds and enterprise funds in the FY18 Budget to the previous town council on April 11 and April 18. The proposed FY18 General Fund Budget showed $7,784,140 in expenditures and transfers, reflecting a 3.03 percent increase from the FY17 budget.
In a letter to the town council, Mears stated, “Each department prepared their budgets and sat down with the town treasurer and myself to review the various service areas line-by-line, allowing us to ask questions, dialogue and work towards an allocation of expenditures that works for each department, the town’s overall financial condition and to meet community service objectives.”
On Tuesday, Oliphant and Mears helped bring the new council up to speed, starting with a discussion about the FY18 budget enterprise funds.
“In the enterprise funds, staff is recommending a reduction in the sanitation fee of 5 percent,” Mears said. “Recycling is recommended to decrease 17.21 percent due to the change in the recycling contract. Water rates are proposed to increase just over 11 percent, and sewer rates just over 4 percent. Stormwater fees would remain unchanged.”
The proposed FY18 budget shows sanitation budget expenses of $1,181,570, which includes funds for the purchase of a new trash truck. The sewer budget shows expenses of $5,276,615, which is lower than that of FY17. The water budget shows expenses at $1,042,895 for the next fiscal year and the storm water fund has expenses of $324,115.
“The increase in costs associated with the water and sewer fees is due to the increased cost of providing those services,” Mears said. “In the current fiscal year the water rate had been bought down utilizing some existing fund balance, however the increase needed last year is still needed for the upcoming fiscal year.”
Robert Stahl, director of operations, said a 3 percent inflation is not really unreasonable in sewer and water.
“We work very hard to meet all the criteria and we meet our discharge limits,” Stahl said. “Electricity is a major part of our cost and it goes up every year. We still have to do major repairs at the plant and maintain our electric. Those are the big costs that we have.”
The council appears to be focused on how to cut costs in the FY18 budget.
“I don’t mind the 3 percent increase in cost of living, but when there is a 4 percent increase on one budget item and 11 percent on another, it’s getting too high,” said Mayor Jeannine E. James. “When you are in the double digits several years in a row, something has got to get better.”
“I would like to see what FY16 actually ended up being, not only what it was proposed to be,” James said. “I would also like to see what a standard utility bill would be for the residents with the rate decrease in sanitation. It may be that the rates increase but the residents are not paying more.” Mears and Oliphant agreed. Mears said the staff is recommending a rate reduction in garbage and recycling which is positive news for the town.
“We’ve had some more control associated with those costs in the recycling contract. Sanitation has been positive news for us for years. We’ve seen a number of rate decreases in that,” Mears said.
Oliphant and Mears also informed the council about the town’s adopted property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year remains unchanged and the proposed increase in law enforcement staffing for next year.
James said she would like to go over the budget one more time and bring back some suggestions for the town staff.
Oliphant said there are time constraints on the FY18 budget.
“We are going to work backwards for everybody’s sake but we need to get the budget adopted and passed by June 13, to everyone’s satisfaction,” Oliphant said.
Mears said the council also needs to squeeze in a public hearing and an additional work session to discuss the public hearing and public comments before the budget’s adoption.
Councilwoman Emily Mudd Hendricks suggested adding a work session on May 30 in order to further discuss the budget and answer any lingering questions from the council. Members agreed.
Mears informed the council that budget adjustments can still be made throughout the fiscal year.
“There is some room for flexibility,” Mears said.
The council will be meeting again on Tuesday to discuss the budget. A public hearing and adoption schedule will be created in order to have the budget complete by July 1, the start of the fiscal year.