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Helper city approves $1.25 million budget

Sun Advocate reporter

The city council in Helper approved a budget last week for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In order to comply with state law, each city in the state is required to pass, by resolution, a budget which show the budgets and revenues of the city.

Like most cities, Helper has been forced to increase its budget to reflect rising costs of gasoline, materials, labor and other expenses.

Cities like Helper, which provide electrical services and utilities, also face increases in the prices of the products it resells.

For instance, when Utah Power increases the company's wholesale rate for power, Helper must accommodate the increases in the city's budget.

Similar to other cities, the council in Helper has been forced to project how it will cover the increased expenditures.

Helper's budget is set at slightly more than $1.25 million for the new fiscal year.

As the council addressed final concerns with the budget, the members gave opinions that revenues may have been overstated.

Councilmember John Jones noted that the total budget in the water department increased by $200,000 compared to figures for 2005-06.

Under current accounting standards, the city has to include the depreciated value of equipment and infrastructure into its budget.

Of the $200,000 increase in the water department, $90,000 is depreciation. Given, the difference, the city is looking at a $110,000 difference as far as planned expenditures from the department.

Of that amount, approximately $70,000 is tied to grant funds that the city is hoping to be awarded. If the funds, don't come in, the city will simply not spend the money, and the books will balance.

Jones explained that his biggest concern was a planned transfer of $46,320 from the water department into the city's general fund.

As of last Thursday, Jones said the city is looking at a surplus in revenues between $20,000 and $30,000 in the water department.

Next year, Jones is looking to repeat the surplus. However, he questioned the wisdom of counting on more than $40,000 in other departments.

"I don't feel we can do that," he said. He added that his concern is that other departments are counting on the transfer in order to cover expenditures. Without the transfer, the city could run a deficit in other departments.

Councilmember Dean Armstrong echoed similar concerns.

Armstrong noted that the city is functioning more efficiently than it was a year ago.

By combining departments under the umbrella of public works, Helper has been able to save money and employees are working more efficiently, and the city has been able to look at increasing benefits and wages for employees.

However, Armstrong pointed out that most of the budget is extremely trim and there is little room for adjustment. The councilmember explained that revenue increases similar to those in the water department are expected in the city's sewer department.

If expenditures cannot be reduced and revenues do not reach anticipated levels, the city could be forced into looking at increasing rates or taxes.

City recorder Jona Skerl told the council that the budget was reflective of what had been discussed at previous meetings.

The recorder said the council had asked that she raise the figures for projected revenues.The budget reflected those requests.

Still, if the city can develop a plan of generating the projected revenues, the budget is balanced.

Other members of the council pointed out that the budget is simply an educated guess as to what the operational costs and revenues will be for the city.

Mayor Mike Dalpiaz explained that there are usually similar concerns going into any budget year.

If revenues do not reach their anticipated levels, the city must adjust somewhere else. The mayor pointed out that construction at the Helper interchange on U.S. Highway 6 could either hurt or help the city. If drivers get off the road, businesses could profit Helper could see an increase in sales tax revenues.

On the flip side, drivers could choose to get through construction, and purchases that would be made in Helper will be made farther down the highway.

"We don't know what's going to happen in six months or three months," said Councilmember Bhuck Buchanan. He added that recently the city has been able to save money through its participation in the Blue Stakes program and by doing more electrical work itself, rather than contract that work to Utah Power.

Despite discussion, the council passed the budget resolution unanimously. Members of the council said that as long as the possible problems in the budget are brought before the residents of Helper, the budget could be approved.

"I don't want to change numbers," said Armstrong. "I want to make sure we shine the light of day on this."

In an unrelated matter, the city moved forward with its pool project.

Armstrong told the council that he was looking as scheduling a groundbreaking and that the council should look for a notice regarding date and time in the near future.

Councilmember Bob Farrell asked whether the city was accruing interest on the funds which have already been awarded. Skerl explained that the grant funds from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board are in the bank and are accruing interest. Other funds in the form of loans from the CIB have been placed in escrow. Skerl said she did not think the city would accrue any interest from those funds.

Anderson also reported to the council that there has been some discussion with the Carbon County Recreation and Transportation Special Service District regarding a contribution to the pool.

While no funds have been promised by the district, Dean said that the county board is "very interested in making sure we have a quality pool."

He said that the district had suggested that the city hire a project manager, an individual who would be authorized to make decisions regarding the pool below a certain dollar amount. The project manager would also act as a quality control mechanism and make sure work proceeded according to plans on a day-to-day basis.

The council approved a motion to allow the city to hire a project manager. Until that position is filled, the council appointed Armstrong, who abstained from the vote on his appointment, to function as an interim project manager.

The council also authorized the project manager to make decisions with effects less than $5,000.

From $5,000 to $10,000, the project manager will need to consult with and get the approval of the mayor. And any changes above $10,000 will need to be approved by the council.

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