Last Wednesday, Treasurer Susy Haugen told the City Council that the 2015 budget is now balanced.
At the beginning of the year, the city was looking at a projected deficit for 2015 of nearly $13 million, which was expected to grow to $21 million by 2018.
Over the summer, the city enacted a combination of fee and tax increases and budget cuts to close the gap.
The 2015 deficit projection was reduced by turns as new policies were put into place or services were cut.
The city’s plan included raising $6 million in new revenue, most significantly by raising existing utility rates and enacting new fees. This was paired with about $3 million in cuts — the largest eliminating the equivalent of 15 full-time positions — and carrying forward $3.7 million in unspent 2013 revenue.
The final pieces of the deficit puzzle were the creation of a transportation benefit district that will impose $20 vehicle-license fees starting next year and savings that emerged when some labor costs turned out to be less than what was originally projected.
The car tabs are expected in 2015 to yield $600,000, the expected revenue over six months.
The car tab program could be started as early as February, according to city statute, but it could take longer to get up and running, Haugen said.
“We wanted to be conservative,” the treasurer said. “We determined that we were safe in estimating for a half-year” of revenue there.
On the expense side, the city discontinued a health insurance plan that no longer had anyone enrolled and found that the rate of growth in the cost to the city for state for pension programs would be lower than projected.
All those expense reductions put another $912,000 back on the books.
With 2015 now balanced, the next task is to look at projected deficits in 2016 and beyond.
With this year’s budget-balancing efforts, the city revised a deficit projection for 2018 downward to $10.9 million from $21 million earlier, Haugen said.
And now the city can turn its attention to Mayor Ray Stephanson’s proposal earlier this year to review several city departments with large benefit obligations, especially fire and police, the city’s two largest departments.
The city has received bids from consultants to do the fire department review, Haugen said, and that is expected to begin soon.
The city will soon look for a consultant for the police review, she said, and consider other options that have been discussed.
“It is an ongoing process,” Haugen said.
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