Printed on: July 26, 2013

Council starts on budget sessions

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

Finding funding for a viable public transportation system.

Restructuring the Idaho Falls Fire Department's overtime budget to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Balancing rising personnel costs with public safety.

Those are only a handful of things the Idaho Falls City Council faces as it begins work on its proposed $183.5 million 2014 budget. The council passed a $184.8 million spending plan last year.

Council members held the first of their budget workshops Tuesday and Wednesday. Additional budget workshops are scheduled Aug. 1 and 5.

The total amount of property tax collected -- more than $26.7 million a year -- has remained the same for four straight years. Other city revenue-generating funding sources include fines, user fees and funding allocated from state and federal governments.

The council is looking to hold the line on that amount, without raising taxes, by possibly dipping into the city's general reserve fund or taking a hard look at the city's approximately 600 employees.

Planning and Building Director Renee Magee said that as the economy continues to rebound slowly, she's already cut what she can from the department and is looking at restructuring her workforce.

"We are trying to reorganize," she said. "We are trying to look at our division differently ... but we don't want to lose that level of service."

Councilman Mike Lehto said it's important to recognize that paying for one-time expenditures out of the general reserves has consequences.

"It's a philosophical fundamental difference I'm arguing," Lehto said. "Do you spend rainy-day funds for unknown bridge (failures) at Tautphaus Park ... or do we spend it on widgets, float tubes and sprinklers."

The other option, which isn't completely off the table for some council members, is raising property taxes.

"There are options to discuss and directions to go in," Lehto said. "But we can't sit here and say we want everything, but we also want a flat levy rate."

Council President Ida Hardcastle said some residents want the city to maintain its level of services, even if that means raising taxes slightly. The council included a proposal in its budget last year to do just that, but changed its mind at the last minute after some residents decried the move.

"Isn't that our job as elected officials to get the feel of the community?" Hardcastle said. "My feel has not been what the six people said last August."

Some of the new major expenditures recommended in the budget include:

$375,000 to contribute to the city's proposed spray park.

$333,330 for new financial software.

$100,000 in additional funding to Bonneville County for judicial services.

$200,000 for a new garbage truck.

$45,000 to conduct the November city elections.

Reporter Christina Lords can be reached at 542-6762.