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Council Approves City Budget
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In a special session that lasted less than 15 minutes, Escalon City Council members on Monday approved the city's budget for fiscal year 2008-2009.

Approved less than seven hours before the July 1 deadline for the start of the new fiscal year, the council passed the spending plan with a 5-0 vote.

"It was a tougher than normal budget," admitted City Manager Greg Greeson, noting the many financial constraints faced by Escalon and other cities throughout the state. "Revenues are not increasing as they normally have been ... we're projecting just a one percent rise in property tax, usually we can count on two and sometimes as high as four or five."

On the flip side, while property tax is declining, Escalon has seen a modest increase in sales tax this year and officials are projecting a three percent increase for 2008-2009.

This year's budget, Greeson said, doesn't allow for too many extras but does maintain existing city services. Officials worked hard to hold the line on spending, but Greeson said it likely won't be the only budget where they'll have to do that.

"I've warned the council that 2008-09 is tough but 2009-10 is going to be as tough if not tougher," he admitted.

Operating revenues for the general fund for the new fiscal year are set at $3,741,285 and the expenditures from the general fund work out to $3,690,045.

"If we look at what we budgeted, both expenditures and revenues are down, about $200,000 in each area," explained Greeson of differences from the 2007-08 plan.

The budget is balanced, he noted, and if the plan holds true, the city ends with a slight surplus from this fiscal year, just over $50,000. That will roll over into the existing reserve, which right now is sitting at about $5.5 million. Greeson said with plans to 'tap in' to the reserve this year for one-time costs, officials are still projecting a $5.3 million reserve at the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year next June 30.

Work on the budget has been going on for the past several months, with the last few weeks dedicated to fine tuning the plan.

Largest expenditures include those for the police and public works departments.

"They were real good at making sure their budgets were reasonable, maintaining services," Greeson noted of Police Chief Doug Dunford and Public Works Director Patrick Riggs.

And while there are no personnel cuts this year and services have been maintained, there is some cost savings in the budget due to not replacing building official Marlene Himes when she retired earlier this year. That work will be contracted out to Precision Inspection Co., Inc. and will save the city roughly $78,000 per year. Greeson said with the slowdown in building, it made more fiscal sense to bring in Precision as needed for inspections and various services, rather than hiring a replacement for Himes.

Council members approved the budget on Monday night with no comment, having gone over it in a special budget workshop on June 24. There was also no comment from the public at the special session on Monday, which opened up at 5 p.m. and was finished before 5:15 p.m.

"We are not deficit spending," Greeson said of the plan. "We are touching on our reserves for one-time type costs."

Demolition and final clean up of the old Arco site is estimated at a $24,000 cost and $150,000 is earmarked for purchase and installation of a new management, support and finance software system.

"We have also started debt service for the Community Center," Greeson said of the renovation project there, with $63,000 due for that payment this year.

Some reductions from last year include cutting back on conferences and training, as well as finding the closest to home training offered, reducing expenditures for travel.

Police Chief Dunford said the spending plan is one he feels comfortable with, especially given the tough economic times.

"We cut where we were able to without jeopardizing or impacting services," Dunford said.

That includes such small things like extending oil changes for police cars from 3,000 to 5,000 miles and putting off some equipment purchases.

Greeson agreed that the new budget meets the community's needs, maintains a surplus and keeps the city in solid financial shape.

"It's a good budget for these times," he said.