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Crawford to balance budget with reserves

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The Town of Crawford anticipates dipping into its reserves to balance the 2017 budget, but it's not as bleak as originally anticipated.

In looking at the early draft budget back in October, the town was considering a general fund deficit of more than $30,000. After making cuts wherever possible, they are now looking at a shortfall of under $10,000 said public works director Bruce Bair at the Nov. 16 public hearing on the budget. If approved by trustees at the Dec. 7 meeting, the budget projects $106,686 in total revenues and $114,637 in total expenses. The $8,701 shortfall will come from the general fund, said Bair.

To help take the burden off the general fund, portions of some of the expenses were shifted to the enterprise funds. The general fund has carried more than its of the burden, explained Bair. If approved by council, items like office and maintenance supplies will be allocated equally between the general fund and water and sewer funds. The annual audit's proposed cost of $7,500 for 2017, for example, will be evenly allocated from all three funds. While the practice has been done in the past, in recent years the general fund has been healthy enough to cover some of the costs. With revenues including severance taxes and mineral leasing dropping, that's not the case any more.

Bair said he believes things like chlorine for the water plant, for example, and office supplies like paper, which are currently covered in the general fund, should be divided between funds since they are used for those funds, too. Bair called the change an "equitable split."

The general fund revenues took their biggest hit in intergovernmental income, which includes severance taxes and mineral leasing. In 2014 Crawford received $49,700 in intergovernmental income, with about $29,000 from coal mining-related income. In 2017 they propose $22,634 for the year, with $3,700 related to mining. In addition, the town won't know what it will get in mineral and severance taxes next year, said Bair.

The town has already been exploring ways to cut spending. In 2015 council voted to eliminate health insurance benefits for the town's two full-time employees, including Bair, saving $6,000 annually, and rolled a portion of the savings into long overdue pay increases. "It just became so expensive," said Bair.

With income sources drying up and expenses growing, the 2017 shortfall shows how much the town could have benefited from Ballot Issue 2A seeking a five-mill increase. In the Nov. 8 election the issue failed by nine votes. Crawford already has the lowest mill levy in the county, said Bair.

The increase would have brought more than $12,000 into the general fund, said Mayor Wanda Gofforth. "That would have kept us from having to dip into our reserves at this time." Without the additional income, the town will have to explore ways to increase revenues, which will likely include another vote to increase the mill levy.

Of the $20,000 approved in 2016 for building of broadband internet anchor points, half went back into the general fund. Whether the money is needed for the project is still being researched, said Gofforth. If the town determines it doesn't need to fund the anchor point, the other $10,000 will be returned to the general fund.

In the enterprise funds, water revenues are projected at $90,564, including $6,300 in reserves, and expenses of $83,716. The sewer fund estimates revenues of $97,300, including reserves of $6,300, and expenses of $91,768.

The switch in from high-pressure sodium street lights to LEDs through Delta-Montrose Electric Association is estimated to save about $10,000 in utility costs in 2016. Factoring in DMEA rate increases, the town budgeted $3,000 for street lighting. In 2014 the cost to light the streets was $12,809.

The budget proposes $9,000 in total maintenance costs. Because the town is heavily invested in the newly-renovated Town Hall, $5,000 is budgeted for building maintenance. "We have a million dollar building here," said Bair. "I think we need to try and ... maintain it and keep it from deteriorating."

Bair asked council for $2,500 for vehicle maintenance as a way to deter replacement costs in the future and prolong the lives of the vehicles.

The general fund's ending balance in 2016 is estimated at $270,456. At the end of 2017 it is projected to be $261,755. That isn't much in reserves for a small town, said Gofforth. "Hopefully we don't have to keep dipping into it."

The entire budget was projected on the wall for the public to see and comment on. "It's a good idea to let the public see, in case somebody has a suggestion or ideas," said trustee Chriss Watters.

Trustees will vote to adopt the budget at the Dec. 7 meeting.

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