Council expects smaller deficit
The Willows City Council expects to end its budget year in June a lot better off that where it began.
Starting with a budget deficit of about $200,000 on July 1, the council expects than figure to be whittled down to under $30,000 by June 30.
City officials said Wednesday's one-hour mid-year budget review was probably the shortest the City Council has had in several years, mainly because no major evasive action was necessary to prevent financial catastrophe.
Finance Director Tim Salisbury said this time last year, the city was looking at a $111,000 General Fund deficit in the last half of the budget cycle.
He credits an increase in sales taxes and a decrease in personnel costs for leaving the city in a better financial position than where they were a year ago.
"Sales taxes are up $88,000 from last year to date," noted Salisbury. "The Walmart expansion and the reopening of Taco Bell are the major factors in the increase over last year."
Although salary and wages are down $52,000 in the Public Works department due to positions left vacant, the salaries for police and other public safety/public works employees are up $32,000 due to the end the wage deferrals, Salisbury said.
The city will also save about $83,000 the second half of the year by not renewing the police chief's contract, but will spend about $88,000 on overtime for patrol coverage.
The city, however, will spend about 9,000 less on benefits costs, Salisbury said.
"There is no benefit component to overtime," he said. "That is the primary reason why you don't see a correlation between the two."
Although the voter-approved increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax will help the city going in to next year's budget, Salisbury said the city collected about $7,000 less in bed taxes than it did during the same time period last year, primary because Willows has seen little of the construction-related activity that typically brings temporary dwellers to the area.
Franchise fees are also down $14,000 from this time last year and interest is down $9,000, primary because the interest rate reinvestment market continues to soften, Salisbury said.
Building revenue is also down.
Salisbury also noted a few mid-year budget revisions to what the city had originally anticipated.
Among those are an anticipated increase in city attorney costs by about $18,000 this year, and the anticipated one-time receipt of about $18,000 from the county for over-collecting the city's property taxes.
A recently settled suit out of Southern California will require counties to charge cities less for the service, Salisbury said.
Even with the city in better financial situation, City Council members say they are fielding concerns from the public about how the city spends money.
Councilman Bill Spears said he would like the council to look at how the city pays for vehicle allowances.
Because department heads are paid a $200 per month flat fee, it may be unfair to those who must drive more for their positions that others whose jobs require very little driving.
Spears said he would like to see all employees log their miles for a few months to see if the city is getting the "best bang for its buck."
"It may be more economical to pay mileage," he said.
But it's also possible the city is getting a good deal on flat rate, Salisbury said.
"Direct reimbursement for mileage may cost the city more in the long run," he said.
Although Salisbury said he understood the increased interest from the public in how the city spends money, there have been many behind the scene concessions made during contract negotiations by employees to help watch the bottom line.
Salisbury, for example, takes half the allowable reimbursement for using outside medical insurance, and Fire Chief Wayne Peabody no longer takes his annual uniform allowance.
Councilwoman Terry Taylor-Vodden said the City Council has looked at the vehicle allowance in the past and determined the flat reimbursement has been the most efficient and the easiest way to handle it.
The City Council made no decision Wednesday exactly how they will handle the deficit, but officials said they will continue to "hold the line."
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.