Little wiggle room in city’s 2017 budget
LOCK HAVEN — The city’s $11.15 million budget for next year is not expected to include any tax increase or any increases in water and sewer fees, and it could end 2017 with a fund balance of only $82,035.
“It’s abnormally low,” City Council Vice President Stephen L. Stevenson said at Monday’s budget work session of the expected fund carry-over.
The balance should amount to two to three months worth of expenses, he said, and $82,000 is not nearly enough to do that. With so little wiggle room, one big expense could derail the whole 2017 spending plan, he said.
He recommended the balance be increased a little each year.
Mayor William E. Baney III pointed out that the city expects to conclude this year with a much higher fund balance — of $293,541.
It is also possible that the balance at the end of 2017 will be higher than expected, City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage said, because the budget figures are always very conservative.
At the end of 2014, council raised real estate taxes about 16 percent for 2015. At the time, council expected to keep the tax rates the same for the following three years, and 2017 will be the third year since that increase.
The budget does not yet include any big capital expenses, although there is a wish list from city staff that totals $1 million, Marcinkevage said. Council usually looks at this wish list after it reviews the basic budget and prioritizes any capital spending.
Stevenson added a capital request, saying once again that one or two lights should be installed at the Memorial Park end of the levee River Walk, to illuminate the parking lot there.
He also said the budget does not include any money for the city’s share of a potential bus system connecting Lock Haven to Jersey Shore and Williamsport. Just how much that share would be is not yet known.
Insurance premiums are one of the driving forces behind any municipal budget. Exactly how much the city will have to pay for liability insurance next year is not yet known, Marcinkevage said.
Council usually does not see insurance figures until later in the budget process.
Marcinkevage also noted that traffic accidents in 2016 caused $80,000 damage to traffic signals and $11,000 damage to street lights. Most of the repairs were paid for by insurance, he said, but some of the payments came from the city’s own insurance carrier and this will probably cause the city’s rates to rise.
Council looked at the firefighting portion of the general fund budget, totaling $412,939, which is less than last year.
Fire Chief Robert L. Neff attended the work session and presented a list of incidents that each of the three fire companies in the city responded to during the first half of this year.
Citizen’s Hose had 238 calls including 18 traffic accidents with injuries, 14 building fires, 10 responses to hazardous conditions, and 43 public service events.
Hope Hose had 122 calls including nine building fires and nine calls to assist invalids.
Hand-in-Hand Hose Co. had 118 calls including nine building fires and 16 cooking fires confined to containers.
Some of the incidents, including building fires, brought out more than one fire company, Neff noted.
He answered a question about staffing from Councilman Ted Forbes, saying the situation is stable but more hands are always welcome and the Lock Haven Fire Department, like so many similar departments, is feeling the crunch of having fewer people.
The department relies on paid drivers, he said, because drivers are critical to any emergency response. They are paid, he said, “to drive the most expensive equipment the city owns and operates.”
The full-time drivers are salaried and paid about $35,000.
The relief drivers are paid $7.25 per hour. The mayor said they have not received an increase in pay since 2009 and he would like to see them paid $10 an hour if the money can be found in the budget to do so. Raising their pay to $10 would cost about $17,000, the city manager said.
The city budgeted $471,729 for firefighting for this year, but expects to spend $490,028 by the time the year ends.
This year’s expenses include $13,577 from the Citizen’s Hose accident when a driver in training, working with an experienced driver, backed a fire truck into a traffic signal pole while trying to back the truck into the garage.
Capital purchases for firefighting totaled $104,636 this year, but only $6,300 is budgeted for next year, and that is for radios, Marcinkevage said.
The flood protection levee portion of the proposed general fund budget totals $126,136.
Only $95,861 is expected to be spent this year in this category, because one full-time staff position was vacant for part of the year, the city manager said.
Council will see a report next Monday on potential parking meter fees and parking ticket fines and may wish to increase both for 2017.
The on-street parking portion of the proposed budget is $27,250 with no capital purchases planned. This is less than the amount budgeted for this year.
Traffic control signals and street lighting have been given their own budget category this year, totaling $186,107 which is less than the amount budgeted for 2016.
Off-street parking revenues and expenses are in a separate fund. This fund was created years ago, to show that the parking lots are not subsidized by general tax dollars, the city manager explained.
Off-street parking expenses next year are expected to total $56,418, but revenues would fall short by $12,056. The revenues would include $7,000 in meter fines and $12,000 in parking permits.
Council held an official public hearing Monday on the potential budget and taxes but received no comments except from representatives of the Clinton County SPCA.
Allan Lugg presented the SPCA’s request for more funding in 2017.
He gave council statistics showing 302 pets entered the shelter this year, 154 were returned to their owners, 97 were adopted out, and 58 animals were surrendered.
The shelter continues to be a “no kill” shelter, his report said, with a Trap Neuter Return Program that has been actively addressing feral cat problems for the past three years.
Building renovations are planned at the shelter to address the leaky roof, the lack of a functioning HVAC system, and the need for staff space.
The SPCA is operating at a loss that is estimated to total $132,000 by the end of this year, the report said, and the agency is asking for help with salary and benefits for the humane officer.
Humane Society Police Officer Kevin Cierpilowski, who works out of the shelter, told council that 177 calls for a humane officer have been received so far this year, most of them from citizens but 24 of them from other agencies.
He has also assisted police from time to time, he said, and has responded to 11 dog bite incidents which must be reported to the state Department of Health. He has his Rabies Vector Species certification, he reported.
He and another humane officer, who works fewer hours, cover Clinton County.
There is a dog warden for Clinton and Centre counties, he said, but her duties are different.
Council expects to hear a funding request from Ross Library on Dec. 12.