Council to look at tax rates, franchise taxes, water agreements with Sunnyside and water rate increases
The East Carbon City Council knew a decision had to be made on the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Waiting any longer could have exacerbated problems facing the city including a deficit in the general fund, questions about how to effectively deal with possible increases in the base rate for water use and finding ways the city can bring in more revenues without cutting back services.
After a lengthy discussion, which became heated at times, the council agreed unanimously to pass the tentative budget for 2011'12 at their meeting on Tuesday night. While the council may have passed a budget to turn into the state auditor's office, they are preparing for more work ahead as they are gearing up to look more closely at multiple areas of the budget.
Council members were given out assignments to research areas of the budget that could help bring in more revenue. The city council will look into areas including examining their water agreements with Sunnyside, when the last time taxes were raised in the city, collecting franchise taxes from services such as DirecTV and Dish Network and possibly charging more for business licenses and other various city requirements.
The city council will discuss possible water rate increases in July when Jay Mashburn, a rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, will give a presentation to the council about increasing water rates in the city.
East Carbon City Mayor Orlando LaFontaine said the city will need to look at the budget and make some "tough decisions ahead."
"We know we're in trouble," LaFontaine said citing the city general fund deficit of $750,000. He further explained that everything within the budget should be on the table noting the city needs to become more responsible with the budget.
The council agreed to pass the tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year to turn in something to the state. They did so with the notion that the budget will be looked at and reviewed more than once over the next year and any changes could be made if they are deemed necessary.
The discussion concerning the budget did not come without its disagreements as things such as the timing of the budget being sent off, meetings not being held to discuss the budget and others were chief concerns among the mayor and city council.
The budget talk became heated between LaFontaine and Councilman Andy Urbanik when the council was discussing revenues and expenditures in certain budget areas including water. Urbanik said he felt that the city was over budgeting revenues in the water account and did not have a number that was more realistic that the city could expect to receive over the next year.
Water rates may need to be raised from its current charge of $15.50 to over $26 if the city wants to be in line for prioritization in getting funds from federal state revolving fund, according to information provided by Mashburn in April.
Urbanik said he was concerned that the mayor did not turn in a budget to the city council for review before the deadline on June 22. He said he was also concerned with LaFontaine saying that some members on the city council did not turn in their personal schedules for a date and time that the entire council could meet to discuss the budget.
LaFontaine said that meetings to talk about the budget were called for but that some members of the council, including Urbanik, were not in attendance. Urbanik said he wasn't aware of meetings taking place and felt that it was LaFontaine's responsibility as mayor to call for a meeting about the budget.
Because the city council was all in attendance at the meeting, Councilwoman Cheryl McFarland said they were close to finishing the budget and could fix what problems they needed to address right there at the meeting.
"We're all here tonight and you have a budget in front of you. Let's get this done," McFarland said.
Dave Maggio, an East Carbon resident, said arguing about the budget was not helping to serve the people of the city.
"It's [arguing] ill serving the community," said Maggio, a former East Carbon City council member.
Maggio explained that the city was not alone in dealing with budgeting problems and a deficit as many other cities around the country are dealing with the same issues. He said increased rates for water may be a necessity for the city and that people would need to find ways to pay the bills.
"Everyone finds ways to pay the bills," Maggio said noting that rising gas prices have not stopped everyone from still driving.
Despite the changes that can be made in the budget, LaFontaine said the city will still face issues with the deficit.
"We're still looking at being in the red, not in the black with the budget," LaFontaine explained.
LaFontaine said over the last four years he has been made aware that tough choices needed to be made. He cited the statistics from the budget showing that revenues have stayed the same while wages and benefits for employees and other areas of the budget have stayed the same. To help make sure city employees were going to be paid, he suggested the city may have to use class C road funds.
While the city council passed the tentative budget, they are preparing for their next meeting by researching the areas in the budget where more revenue could possibly be obtained.