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City $$ - Spending Plan Sees Operating Deficit
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They knew the news wouldn't be good - and they will have to dip into reserves to balance the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Escalon City Council members met in a special budget workshop session on May 22 and heard an overview of the plan from City Finance Director Tammy Alcantor, with additional remarks from interim City Manager Henry Hesling.

Among the options anticipated for the coming year: replacing both interim leaders, Hesling and Police Chief Jim Shaw, with existing staff members moving up to fill those posts on a temporary basis. Named as Deputy City Manager was John Abrew, who also is City Engineer and Public Works Director, while Sgt. Milt Medeiros will be named acting Chief of Police when Shaw leaves the post later this year. Hesling is due to finish his time with the city at the end of this fiscal year, June 30.

Figures presented to the council on Tuesday night showed a general fund operating budget of $2,954,102 for the year and anticipated operating revenues of $2,814,640. That would mean a deficit of $139,462 that would have to be pulled out of reserves.

The estimated reserve balance to start the fiscal year, July 1, 2012 will be $1,772,700 and both debt service on the city's Civic Center and Community Center will be taken out of that, in addition to expenditures in the equipment reserve.

Hesling said even though it's not what they want to do, the city will be forced to eat up some of its surplus to meet operating expenditures and pay the debt service on city buildings. That will leave the city with an estimated reserve of $1,152,960 as of June 30, 2013.

"We plan to bring it back to the council on June 4," Hesling said of the proposed budget.

The spending plan will, for the time being, maintain existing services at the current level. Change will come in the fall, however, when the City Recreation Director position is slated to change from a full-time post to a part-time coordinator slot.

There could also be increases looming in city services such as sewer and water rates, which have not been raised in years and have created a situation where the departments can no longer pay for themselves through the revenues generated.

Resident Kurt Danziger, one of the handful of community members that attended the session, agreed with the idea of raising the rates but said the council needed to tread carefully.

"It's going to be painful," he said of having to raise water and sewer rates that have held steady for several years. "You will have to educate the public ... get them ready for it, because it's coming."

The city has also been hit by a huge decrease in interest income, from a high of $218,817 in the 2007-08 fiscal year to a projection of just $8,000 for the 2012-13 year. The last new building permit in the city was issued in 2006-07 and both sales and property tax are also down, creating conditions that are making it tough for the city to maintain the status quo.

"It can't be business as usual," Hesling said, noting that the city can't continue to draw on its reserves. It also can't realistically maintain the 33 percent reserve the council wants, he said, so there will have to be a shift in both how the city does business and sets fees for services.