Supervisors hoping to cut services before hitting taxpayers
Carson City supervisors say they would prefer to deal with the city’s budget problems by cutting city services before raising taxes in any form.
“We are absolutely reluctant to (raise taxes) unless we absolutely have to,” Mayor Ray Masayko said. “We knew this would be the kind of year that would get a little troublesome, and it did. We have to deal with it.”
But where do you cut, especially when city departments are asking for nearly $2 million in extra staff and equipment, not to mention requests totaling more than $380,000 for community support?
Hearings begin Monday with a look at the $43.4 million proposed budget and continue Tuesday with a workshop on funding public safety.
“The biggest challenge we have is how we’re going to do that,” Supervisor Robin Williamson said. “There are a lot of good ideas about spending money and things that will improve services to our residents, but maybe we need to say we’d like to do that, but we need to slow everything down. I’d like to get pretty lean and cut back as many services as possible with the hopes things will turn around in the interim.”
Facing a $790,000 deficit, there are several opportunities available to city leaders to increase revenue, including raising property taxes — up to 14 cents — or raising utility franchise fees and 911 fees. Together, they could add more than $1 million a year to city coffers.
City leaders are facing the permanent loss of between $780,000 and $1.2 million in annual sales taxes after Wal-Mart closes its Carson store and opens a super store just across the Douglas County line this spring.
They are also casting a critical eye toward an extra $250,000 subsidy of the Western Nevada Regional Youth Center, a five-county alcohol and drug treatment center in Silver Springs. The suggested subsidy this year pushes the city’s bill for the facility to more than $500,000.
“We have to find out if we’re interested in putting a limit on our commitment to that facility,” Williamson said.
The city’s internal finance committee, comprising City Manager John Berkich, Treasurer Al Kramer, Finance Director David Heath and Deputy Finance Director Tom Minton, worked to cut costs from the city’s budget and ended up with $1.5 million in potential savings.
If services are where supervisors want to cut first, more than $2.1 million in items are on a suggested cut list. On the chopping block sit $600,000 in employee dependent care, $300,000 in employee travel and training, $275,000 for the city’s transit program and $200,000 from the city’s community support plan.
Insurance costs have risen for the city dramatically during the last couple of years, and are expected to rise 12 percent — $276,000 — this year. Heath noted the dependent care subsidy is an optional benefit provided to employees. Cutting it would mean a single mother with two children, for instance, would pay twice as much to insure her children — as much as $306 a month.
Changes to the insurance plan would affect 340 of the 580 city employees not covered under public safety bargaining agreements.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy to get through,” Supervisor Richard Staub said. “We’re going to try to do what we can to avoid raising taxes. But the realities of the day are you either make cuts in services or you raise revenues.
“In my opinion, we’re going to have to avoid having to come to the Carson City citizens to raise revenue. If push comes to shove, where we can’t find any costs savings, the board, in doing its job, has to look at potential revenue increases.”
But Staub added there are “only certain areas we can cut,” specifically health packages and cost-of-living increases. And, he added, “a hiring freeze may be on the table.”
New positions must be approved by city supervisors, and pay increases are reviewed by the internal finance committee.
For all the talk of not raising taxes, last year was the first city supervisors levied less property taxes than the 6 percent increase they’re allowed annually under law.
Carson City is the only member of the five-county coalition that operates the Silver Springs youth center not to levy some property tax — up to 5 cents– to pay for the facility.
City officials are estimating losing up to $750,000 in sales taxes on top of those lost with the Wal-Mart move when a shopping center planned just south of the new Wal-Mart site opens in 2003-04. With 43 percent of the city’s budget dependent on sales taxes, the loss pressures city leaders to look to other funding sources.
“It’s not pleasant,” Masayko said. “Obviously, folks are convinced we have funds to add to their needs and resources. The message needs to get out there that we don’t have funds without significantly raising taxes.”
IF YOU GO
What: Carson City Board of Supervisors budget hearings
When: 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Where: Carson City Community Center Sierra Room, 851 E. William St.