City budget picture better than first anticipated | NevadaAppeal.com
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City budget picture better than first anticipated

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Engineer Bill Berge, left, and firefighter Matthew Merritt of the Carson City Fire Department repair a hose Thursday afternoon at Station 1. City officials are examining public safety needs as they plan their nearly $90.5 million budget.
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In 2003, Carson City’s budget was so tight that supervisors cut staff and, in some instances, froze spending.

With this year’s budget nearly written, city officials hope they’ll be able to hire more city employees and undertake projects that have been on hold.

The overall budget picture “is a little better than we anticipated,” said Carson City Manager Linda Ritter. “We’re pretty positive about the future.”

Sought this year are, for example, two more deputies to work inside the jail and a technician to help with upkeep of new city buildings.

They hope to spend $23,500 to replace a pedestrian bridge at Mills Park, $47,000 in improvements in the audio and visual equipment used in the Sierra Room at the Community Center during meetings, and $60,000 for a recreation coordinator.

But that’s not to say there won’t be challenges.

The number of people who work in the city but don’t live here cause more wear and tear on roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Expanding the city’s ambulance services is being postponed, and finding money to fund parks, arts and other programs is always difficult.

What city officials know they will spend is what it takes to fund essential services such as law enforcement, emergency response, courts, water, sewers, health and street repairs. Those needs will cost nearly $90.5 million in the fiscal year that runs from July 1 to June 30, 2007, or about 78 percent of the $116 million budget.

Expenses have been and will continue to be scrutinized, Ritter said. Several jobs have gone unfilled. A savings of $100,000 resulted in the city dropping its equipment maintenance insurance policies and insuring these items by putting money aside as a form of self-insurance. The jail has reduced expenses by $50,000 and refinancing of redevelopment debt should save at least another $20,000.

Also sought is an increase in assessed valuation of new properties – 29 cents for every $100. This move should add another $57,000 a year to the city’s coffers without affecting owners of existing properties, she said.

Serving the daytime population

Carson serves as a commercial and governmental hub – being the state capital – it has an estimated weekday population of more than 70,000 people compared to its roughly 56,000 residents who actually call the city home, Ritter said.

Though this distinction has a multitude of advantages, there are responsibilities that come with it, too. There have been rises in demand for some services that are higher than recent population increases would dictate, she said.

While the city’s population has only increased by 8 percent since 2000, court caseloads have jumped 36 percent since fiscal year 2004 and sheriff’s department arrests have gone up by 9 percent from 2003 to 2005, Ritter said.

Also going up are the number of calls to the fire department: 7 percent more in 2005 and 6 percent more in 2004.

An area of concern for the city is how the price of gasoline continues to rise, which means the price of asphalt will go up commensurately. The higher cost for gas is expected to cause some people to drive less and, in turn, cause the gas taxes the city collects to go down, Ritter said.

There is an impact on other things, such as how much money would be available for streets, when a community has a substantial number of extra people rolling through it. Streets spending, however, will go up just 3 percent this year, from $6.2 million to $6.5 million.

And “we often save money over time to fund larger projects,” such as the Stewart Street and Fairview Drive widening projects, she said. Expenditures sometimes vary greatly year to year because this type of work is funded through a variety of sources, such as the gas tax, which is expected also to rise by only 3 percent, Ritter said.

Costs and difficulties

Nevada’s annual property tax increase cap has lowered revenues. The booming real estate market, which has boosted assessed values a whopping 12 percent, could have brought an additional $1.8 million to the city.

“It was a lost opportunity,” Ritter said.

There is growth potential in collecting sales tax, however.

“It’s king,” Ritter said. “That’s why so many efforts are put into raising it, such as business recruitment, development, redevelopment.”

“It would be nice to bring in business, to build business here,” said Alex Simmons, who works in the city but lives in Dayton.

This year, sales tax will comprise 43 percent of the city’s revenues. The next closest funding source is property taxes at 21 percent.

“Why do we need more retail stores?” asked Lisa Hass, who returned to Carson City, after living several years in Arizona.

“But I would like to see something different. In Phoenix, where I used to live, there were strings of big-box stores lined up and I got tired of it,” she said.

Other added expenses include additional costs for the public defenders’ office and added maintenance costs for the city’s new Health and Human Services building and the new Sheriff’s Department administration building.

Priorities

“Culture and recreation programs aren’t mandated,” Ritter said.

This year’s budget provides $10.9 million to these types of services, such as parks, recreation and the library.

When there is a need for budget cuts, these services are the first to go, she said. Some residents hope this won’t be the case this year.

“There’s not a lot for people 18-21 to do in Carson City or Reno,” said resident Megan Hoote, 19. She wasn’t sure what might be useful to provide because it’s a hard group to try to serve. Some of her friends, while out seeking fun and adventure, “have gotten in trouble.”

“The environment is very important to me,” Hoote also said. “And we need to fix the community up a little bit.”

Resident Steve Schmidt said the services he believes are most important include “police, fire, ambulance and street improvements.”

“The new rec. center is not at the top my list,” Schmidt said. He uses the public library and Senior Citizens Center, the latter of which is more important to him as a funding priority.

Budget team

This is the third year for the city to use a budget team. It is comprised of more than a dozen upper-management employees and elected officials.

As a group, they rank spending requests using a list of criteria and also use a separate ranking referred to by members as “gut feelings.”

“Everyone is working more closely together so they understand why one part of the city is asking for one thing versus the other part of the city asking for something else,” said Andrew Burnham, development services director. “We’re looking at what’s better for the city overall, rather than looking at your own isolated department.”

This group recommended a list of expenditures. Continued funding for several positions, including the new citizens outreach coordinator, the domestic violence prosecutor, and a community safety and education coordinator are among them.

Considered but postponed, however, was the purchase of another ambulance and employees to run it – an expense estimated to cost $700,000.

The team opted to wait until next year.

“I don’t think we were jeopardizing the safety of our citizens,” said Fire Chief Stacey Giomi, of the decision to wait until fiscal year 2008.

The regional mutual-aid agreement with neighboring counties has helped the city ensure that its emergency responses were handled during the past few years. Douglas County, for example, provided Carson with assistance 180 times last year, Giomi said.

With Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center, the city serves as the region’s medical hub. There are many seniors living here, too. Three skilled and three semi-skilled nursing facilities, and two large senior apartment complexes are based in Carson City because the hospital is here, Giomi said.

Douglas, however, is growing, as is Lyon County. And the need for more ambulance services rises as the amount of money the city is reimbursed from Medicare and Medicaid falls, Ritter said.

The Board of Supervisors, which has the final say on how the city spends its money, will hear about the budget during its meeting Thursday. Supervisors must approve a budget to submit to the state by May 15.

For your information

• The Carson City Board of Supervisors will receive a briefing Thursday about the city’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2007.

Residents are encouraged to attend.

• Being proposed is an increase in property tax assessments of 29 cents for every $100 of assessed valuation and will be charged to new property owners. This will bring an estimated $57,000 more in revenue to the city.

• Supervisors also will distribute $638,000 in supplemental funds to various departments and $290,000 in community service grants to local nonprofit agencies.

• These decisions will be added to the budget. The revised version will be brought to the Supervisors for final approval May 15.

• Thursday’s budget overview presentation will be available online at http://www.carson-city.nv.us/bcc/agendas.htm

If you go

What: Board of Supervisors meeting

When: 8:30 a.m. Thursday

Where: Sierra Room, Community Center, 851 E. William St.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.