By Emily Jarrett
The Sedalia City Council and city department officials established several goals for the upcoming fiscal year during a special budget strategy session, held Saturday at Katy Trail Community Health.
City Administrator Gary Edwards first gave council a quick update on the ongoing budget process. Despite being down most of the year, Edwards noted sales tax numbers from January were up slightly, though there will still be an approximately $1 million shortfall in incoming sales tax revenue.
“Based on what we’re seeing, it’s looking like there will be about a $1.8 million shortage between projected general fund revenues and expenditures,” he said. “Now, those numbers are as of right now. They will likely change before our major budget presentation later this month.”
Edwards said that while the next fiscal year, which starts April 1, will be “challenging and tough” the city’s fund balance was enviable at about $9 million in the bank.
“We’re going to have very tight budgets this year and that’s something to keep in mind as we establish these goals,” he said.
With the help of professional facilitator Bob Saunders, council worked to set broad goals for the next year. The biggest, and one that caused the most discussion, involved pay raises and retention rates. Early on in the meeting Ward 1 Councilman Steve Galliher said he’d like to see city employees receive pay raises this year, though some council members disagreed.
“We spend 62 percent of our budget on salaries. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t give raises but we can’t just say, ‘OK, here’s a 2 percent increase’ without looking at the big picture,” countered Ward 4 Councilman Ken Norton. “Otherwise we’ll have very well-paid employees but crumbling roads.”
City Personnel Director John Rice noted the 62 percent figure is fairly standard among comparably sized cities.
“The thing that worries us is the retention rates,” Rice said. “Salary-wise we’re about mid-range but if you cut that too much, you’ll start to lose people and have a disparity in service. When we have police officers and firefighters going to Lee’s Summit because the pay is better, we’re losing out.”
“But we’re never going to be able to compete (with Lee’s Summit salaries,)” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Wanda Monsees. “I’m not saying our employees don’t deserve a raise, but we can’t compete with a city that size.”
Department officials also spoke to council about a need for staff increases. While each department said they could use more staff to help with workloads, council focused on the police and fire departments specifically. Fire Chief Mike Ditzfeld said the SFD’s current staff level was fine for the time being.
“You have to remember though, if I want to add one position, that’s 24-hours seven days a week, that’s actually four guys,” he said. “Right now I think we’re fine. I would say in the five- to seven-year range, I’d like to add two positions (eight employees.) Obviously that’s something that needs to be planned for and I’d like to see maybe in our comprehensive plan a strategy for how we’re going to fund those staffing increases.”
Police Chief John DeGonia said he would ask council for two more officers this year, saying the department hasn’t had a staff increase since 1974.
“We’re going from call to call to call,” he said. “Two more officers will help us maintain the level of service we’re providing and it will also help cut down on my overtime. Right now I’m spending $100,000 in overtime because we don’t have the manpower we need.”
DeGonia estimated the new hires would decrease his use of overtime by a third, saving the city money.
Other goals council will pursue include:
• Assisting the Parks Department to look into building a community center. Currently the Parks Department budget includes funding for a study of how much a community center built at Liberty Park would cost. All council members were on board with the idea, though some didn’t like that a sales tax would be likely.
“We’re already at 8.1 percent sales tax, if we had another one on top of it, we’ll be too high,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Becca La Strada.
Parks Department Recreation Superintendent Amy Epple said she gets several calls a month from people thinking of moving to Sedalia asking if there’s a community center.
“I think it’s a quality-of-life issue,” she said. “I live in Warrensburg and I know a lot of people who will travel there just to go to (the Warrensburg Community Center.) I think if we had something like that it would be a big selling point and something that may speak to retention rates of people wanting to stay in the community.”
• Analyze the current agreement with the Sedalia Animal Shelter.
• Complete the downtown streetscape project.
• Continue clean up and demolition efforts.
• Increase pursuing retail growth and working toward increased economic development; also pursue lobbying efforts related to the use tax.
• Establish an online registration system for the Parks Department and work toward being able to take credit and debit card payments.
• Develop a new comprehensive plan that includes looking at zoning ordinances.
• Develop a five-year capital improvement plan with financing.
• Start addressing unfunded Sedalia Police Department liability retirement funds.
• Continue ongoing improvements at Crown Hill Cemetery.
• Possibly hiring a full-time technician for the technology department. City Information Technology Manager Monte Richardson said the city’s current contract for a three-day a week technician will end in April. He would like to hire a full-time technician, saying it would be cheaper than renegotiating a contract position.
Council will discuss the Fiscal Year 2014 budget more in depth at its Feb. 19 meeting.