Of loaves and fishes: Balancing the budget

Carson City supervisors have seen the multitude in the form of city departments and community organizations asking for $1.2 million in funding.

Now they may be hoping for a miracle as they try to balance a $2.2 million deficit in their budget and find a way to fund a few, if any, of the extra requests without raising taxes.

"I know this is a bit like the loaves and fishes," District Attorney Noel Waters said at last Monday's budget hearing, a reference to the Biblical story of Jesus feeding thousands with seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.

Supervisors on Monday will try to balance their roughly $40 million budget and consider supplemental requests as well as funding for community organizations.

In a November 1999 goal setting session, supervisors set goals for the coming year. Their list included:

-- Increase sheriff staffing

-- Funding for storm drainage

-- Provide for facility and staffing needs at the Carson City Library

-- Resources to further economic development

-- Renovations at the Juvenile Justice Center

-- Complete construction of the new communications center

-- Create an investigator in the District Attorney's Office

-- Increase geographic information system resources

Most of those goals are represented somewhere in the requests for funding. Then again, so far the supervisors haven't turned down many requests. That's going to change this week.

Most of the requests - $913,913 worth - are ongoing, which means the city tries to find money every year. Only $236,706 falls into the one-shot funding category. While at the moment there is a slim-to-none chance that the departments will get their extra funding, there may be a savior on the horizon.

"It's unlikely that the board will have the ability to do much in the way of ongoing needs," City Manager John Berkich said. "It's important to note, though, that the current budget numbers don't include or recognize any changes that are possible on the radar screen."

Berkich said with the Costco deal close to being completed - the entire deal is tentatively set to be seen by supervisors April 6 - and Lowe's moving in as well, the city may be able to plan for extra sales tax dollars. That breathing room would allow the board to revisit the supplemental requests at a later date. The tentative budget is due to the state April 15, and the final budget is due by June 1.

"It's going to be a hard call," Supervisor Pete Livermore said. "I wish we had more money, but we don't. We're going to have to make some hard choices."

"It's difficult," added Supervisor Jon Plank. "You sit there and ponder those issues and think, 'What do I do with this?'"

Library Director Sally Edwards came to budget hearings Tuesday with a request she's been repeating since 1988. She's wants to see the library open seven days a week with extra hours, but about five extra people are needed to pull it off.

"I know this is like squeezing blood from the proverbial turnip," she said. "I wouldn't be asking for this for the 12th year in a row if it weren't important."

The city's Community Development Department provides staff members for at least 15 different commissions and boards. Community Development Director Walt Sullivan asked supervisors for a position upgrade which would allow the department to add an assistant planner.

"We're operating at 25 to 30 percent below approved levels, and that begins to take a toll," Sullivan said. "We're not working as efficiently as I'd like. We've accepted extra duties, (but) you can only stretch the community development rubber band before it breaks."

"If I had a magic wand, you'd have it," Mayor Ray Masayko told Sullivan.

Masayko's comment is indicative of the entire budget process. For supervisors it's a matter of balancing needs like these with public safety concerns, which top the priority list. Even if there is no funding, Masayko said it is important for supervisors to listen to the departments' requests.

"Regardless of what the first blush of the budget said, it was appropriate they came," he said. "We need to look at (the requests) in the long term perspective. The need isn't going to go away because you don't have the funding for it. Until you accomplish it, it should stay right near the need-to-do list until is gets accomplished.

"Decisions need to be made. As long as things are in a state of flux, we may get to come back and revisit some things."

Supervisors can either choose to balance the roughly $40 million budget budget based on recommendations from the city's internal finance committee, or they can try to pull money from other sources. Ultimately, supervisors will decide which priorities to follow for balancing the budget.

The internal finance committee recommended raising property taxes by 7 cents, which would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $48.50. It also suggested reducing the medical benefit subsidy from the city's general fund by $450,000 and reducing the subsidy to the city's capital improvement program by $514,000.

Reorganization in some city departments would save approximately $200,000. These measures would make up for the $2.2 million short in the budget. The deficit is being blamed on flat sales tax projections and an increase in labor costs and medical benefits.

Masayko suggested looking at decreasing the $300,000 contingency fund, not funding $100,000 for elective spending by supervisors and dipping into the city's $3.3 million stabilization fund. Raising property taxes is a last resort on the supervisors' list, all said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment