sedaliademocrat.com

Economy looms over city budget

February 24, 2009

Sedalia may not be in the same sinking budgetary boat as other cities, but the City Council still has the economy in mind as it plans upcoming projects.



City Administrator Keith Riesberg said he plans to present a $4.5 million budget Monday to the City Council. The budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins April 1, predicts the city will see a 3 percent decrease in sales tax revenue over this year, or about $153,500.



The City Council is expected to review the first draft of the budget during committee meetings, which begin at 5:30 p.m. Council members previously gave city staff direction at a Saturday planning meeting, where they discussed major upcoming projects and items influencing the budget.



The previous budget anticipated revenues at $4.5 million, but the city is on track to collect $4.7 million. The city could have drafted a budget in between the budgeted amount last year and the actual collections, but officials wanted to be cautious. Riesberg said he would rather plan to bring in less in sales tax “than to make cuts mid-year because we’ve dropped.”



Sedalia has managed to avoid the budget panic experienced by other municipalities, governments and public entities. Part of that is due to careful planning by city officials. Historically, the city brings in more money that it budgets, and spends less. The result is a healthy general reserve expected to reach $8.5 million by March 31.



Riesberg said the city also has benefited from “proactive promotion of the community” by various groups including the county, school district, State Fair Community College and Economic Development Sedalia–Pettis County. The city has continued to grow over the past several years and experienced more than $60 million in new construction last year alone.



“Positive economic activity tends to build on itself,” he said.



Councilwoman Elaine Horn, 1st Ward, said the city has done a good job of evaluating what is most necessary or beneficial to the community in regard to spending.



“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve kind of planned ahead and been more conservative in the projects we would like to take on,” she said.



The city has a safety net by way of the reserve fund, but that doesn’t mean the council is immune from making a few tough decisions. The council is looking at increasing the monthly sanitation fee to bring the department closer to covering its expenses. The sanitation department is intended to be self-sufficient.



“But, we also have to be mindful of how we do that,” Horn said. “We have to be consistent in everything that we do.”



Council members will also consider raising burial service fees at Crown Hill Cemetery to put it in line with similar municipal cemeteries, but still substantially less than private cemeteries. The cost of plots would remain the same.



Employee raises likely will be another decision soon faced by the council. Riesberg said officials are working on several options regarding raises. In 2007, the city implemented a system of pay scales and merit-based raises after salaries of city workers failed to keep pace with competitive wages. The council is committed to the merit-based system, Riesberg said.



“We felt it was necessary to take care of our employees because they are one of our best assets,” Horn said.



Other plans in the coming year include the first of several steps to renovate City Hall over several years, continuation of planning a community center (including consideration of a bond issue to pay for it), and design and implementation of a plan for firefighters to respond to EMS calls.