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Carson City changing budget process

What city officials have long referred to as “Wheel of Fortune Night” will be a thing of the past as Carson City heads into this year’s budget process.

The Board of Supervisors has traditionally worked out the final budget plan each year by holding exhaustive hearings in which each department head made a pitch for budget enhancements.

City Manager Linda Ritter said Wednesday that process will change dramatically this year.

“Instead, we’re going to come up with a proposed budget to give to the board,” she said.

Ritter said a team of city officials from all major departments including several elected department heads are evaluating budget priorities and needs for the city.

“All supplemental requests are being reviewed by the team,” she said.

When supervisors meet to review the budget, they will get a package that includes priorities for all departmental enhancements as well as base budgets for the coming year.

Finance Director Tom Minton said they went through a similar process to develop capital priorities for fiscal 2005.

She said the idea is to build the budget around the most critical needs developed through an evaluation process, rather than having supervisors divide up the available funding based on the pitch made by each department.

She said the only parts of the budget that will still go through that process are community support programs which fund such operations as Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and the Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada.

“That’s up to the supervisors,” she said.

Ritter said city general fund revenues are expected to increase about $805,000 next fiscal year to just over $50 million.

Ritter said next year’s budget will keep city general fund expenditures at about the same level per capita next year.

“This is one I definitely watch and the goal is to keep it as flat as possible,” she said.

She said because Carson City relies so heavily on sales tax revenues, she wants to use some of the money in Carson’s ending fund balance to beef up the reserves in case of an economic slump. Minton said it would be prudent to have $4 million or more in that fund – which would cover governmental operation costs for about a month.

The share of the budget taken by general government has shrunk a bit over the past few years to less than 30 percent, as has the share to public works. But Minton’s projections show the percentage going to public safety – police and fire functions – has increased.

Overall, nearly 80 percent of the total general fund budget goes to salaries and benefits for city employees. Ritter said that makes sense because, in most cases, what the city provides residents is service, whether from police and fire or from office workers in different agencies.

Half the money for salaries and benefits – a projected $17.8 million – will go to public safety next year.

But with the budget tight this coming year, Ritter said the size of the city workforce won’t be growing by much. At this point, plans are to add three employees in public safety and cut one in general government and public works. That would produce a net gain of one worker to a total city workforce of 448.

She said that may change by the end of the budget process.

The budget committee will present its proposed spending plan to all city departments April 19. Supervisors will review the budget April 26 and the board will hear appeals from agencies April 27.

The city budget must be reviewed and approved by the state Department of Taxation in May.

Contact Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or at 687-8750.