Monroe budget falls short again

  • Wed Mar 24th, 2010 10:44pm
  • News

By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer

MONROE — City officials have taken steps twice this year to address budget shortfalls, but it keeps slipping into the red.

They’re now facing a hole of about $80,000 caused by the continued decline in sales tax and an unexpected drop in utility tax revenues.

Efforts are under way to deal with the deficit, Mayor Robert Zimmerman said. For now, layoffs are not being considered.

“I’m trying to avoid even having that appear on the radar at this time,” he said. “I think there are other things that we can do.”

Zimmerman said the city may be able to curb spending to help bridge the $80,000 gap. He also touted the city’s efforts to streamline its permitting process, ideally attracting business.

Councilman Tony Balk said he prays Zimmerman is right. He, too, wants to avoid layoffs, but said the city has been making cuts for years, leaving little fat to trim.

“At this time, everything is on the table, at least in my mind,” Balk said.

The budget projections were based on revenue through February and historical data from the past five years, interim finance director Brad Feilberg said.

As of Feb. 2, the City Council was working under a budget that anticipated $10.69 million in revenue for the general fund, which covers departments such as police and parks.

The revised estimates project general fund revenue will instead hit $10.27 million, a drop of $425,000.

“It’s probably fairly accurate,” Feilberg said of the new figure, “but seeing as this is sort of an unsettled economic time, who knows what’s going to happen?”

Indeed, the City Council already has tweaked the budget twice this year, cutting the deficit to the $80,000.

In February, the group approved budget amendments that briefly pulled the general fund into the black. The maneuver found officials tapping into their enterprise funds for revenue. In the long term, the move will leave the city with less money to spend on capital improvement projects, such as replacing water lines.

On Tuesday, the City Council also signed off on a plan to restructure positions in City Hall. That effort will buoy the general fund by $243,000 this year.

The restructuring will eliminate director-level positions in finance, public works and engineering. Lower-paid managers will handle the day-to-day duties in those departments, with senior-level staff overseeing their work.

The restructuring does not involve layoffs. Instead, it was made possible by existing vacancies.

“This is our plan of attack to help reduce that deficit…,” Zimmerman told the council. “It’s not everything, but it’s a great start.”

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, arathbun@heraldnet.com.