City crafting a budget, expects some expensive issues

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Alta City Budget will be stretched for a number of sizable projects - notably, funds toward a future fire truck, a library request for salary and more hours, upgraded Christmas lights, and an anticipated request toward playground projects.

The council gathered for a special meeting this week to pore through the upcoming fiscal year budget, which must be finalized by March.

The city budget has been pretty consistent, and thanks to estimating on the high end, has had no shortfalls, City Clerk Megan Peterson said. Currently the city is under budget for the first sixth months of fiscal 2019-20. The new fiscal year begins in July.

Some of the highlights from the budget conversation:

• Fire Department - Townships fees rise $1,500. The raceway will pay $3,000 for fire dept. standby coverage, but the income the city will basically pay back in pay to the firefighters. Department salaries are proposed to increase to $3,000 to $30,000, as there are more members with vacancies recently filled. Equipment would increase $2,000 for such things as hoses and bunker gear. Capital improvements request is for an additional $10,000 as the department is setting aside funds toward a pumper truck expected to be purchased in about five years. For the coming fiscal year the department hopes to obtain a quick attack/EMS truck - there should be enough money saved up that no loan will be necessary. Mayor Kevin Walsh questioned whether the whole additional $10,000 should be funded, depending on how the city revenue pencils out.

• Police - Expenses are expected to go down from $168,000 to $160,000, after the county sheriff’s department proposed a lower rate in recent contact renewal to cover the city.

• Library - The facility has its own board, the city sets a general funding amount and the board decides how it will be spent. The board is asking for a $5,769 increase for the coming fiscal year, all going toward salaries and staffing for additional hours in the summer. City officials said the library budget has been pretty tight and hasn’t increased in about three years, but one council member felt new money should first be directed toward fire or streets departments.

• Parks - Few big expenditures are planned, but city officials expect to be asked to fund several thousand dollars toward an effort to improve the playgrounds.

• Community Beautification - Trees are the big issue, with costs to cut down dying ash trees estimated at $200 each, or perhaps $20,000 for the year. About 30 percent of the city’s trees are ash, infected by the emerald ash borer. The city will forego any tree trimming this year and concentrate on removal. The goal is to drop 100 trees per year for the next three years.

• Christmas Lights - The city is considering a request for $10,000 toward replacing the holiday lighting. The chamber of commerce is also involved in the project, and the utility company would do the mounting work. “Somebody will have to purchase them, you’ll have to decide if it is important or not,” the city clerk told the council.

• City Council - Funds for travel and attending conferences would be reduced. Funding for the city clerk office and consulting attorney are similar to previous years.

• Community Building - Funding will be similar to current year, except for two remaining air conditioner units to be upgraded.

• Streets - The city has moved some accounts out of this area in order to stretch the road use tax revue that is supposed to entirely fund street work. Concerns are rising about aging equipment. Mayor Walsh said the department is being “neglected,” working with trucks dating as far back as 1985. The department’s immediate priority is to replace one truck at about $145,000, but the street sweeper, a dump truck and grader are also getting age on them. There will probably be no major street repair for the coming fiscal year, as staff will be busy taking down trees.

• Snow and Ice - Removal is set at $26,000, but it is hard to estimate costs, depending on how hard winter weather may be.

• Trails - A fund was set up a few years ago when there was a push for trail development, but likely will remain unfunded.

• Sewer Plant - Operation is supposed to be revenue-neutral. The city is getting closer to that goal, but has not yet reached it.

• Garbage - No change is expected. The landfill commission recently opted not to raise its fees.

• Housing Rehab - The city has not taken on a project in a few years, but grant funding may be available if the city sets aside $6,000. Walsh felt it would be a good investment for the community.

• Outside Agencies - Upper Des Moines Opportunity charity agency is asking $1,300, the Iowa Lakes Corridor $5,800 (the city stopped funding it in 2016) an CASA abuse response agency is asking to be considered, though the city has never funded it.