Marion is closing in on a balanced budget; the question is how it will get there.
An increase in utility rates is on the table, as is a tax increase, though it’s possible the city may be able to balance its budget without either.
City administrator Roger Holter will prepare three finalized budgets: one with an increased mill levy, one with raised utility rates, and one with neither.
The figure Holter floated to department heads as they presented budget proposals was $27,000: If departments could save that much, the city would not increase the tax rate.
The trick was finding areas to be cut.
Councilman Jerry Kline put it simply to assistant police chief Clinton Jeffrey.
“Where’s your budget padded?” Kline asked.
Jeffrey’s response was fuel costs, given a recent drop in gas prices. Each department picked out certain areas it could cut.
At the conclusion of a seven-hour meeting Saturday, councilman Jerry Dieter said he thought departments reached the target number, but he asked Holter to tally suggested cuts to make sure.
The main focus was infrastructure.
Electrical department head Christian Pederson requested a fourth staffer, explaining that two two-man crews could get significantly more done than the current three-man configuration.
Public works director Marty Frederickson went into detail about problems facing the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, EPA regulations, he said could force Marion into multiple multimillion-dollar projects in coming years.
Recreation director Margo Yates spoke on behalf of the city’s parks and recreation department, which will be budgeted for 2016 despite lacking any current staff.
Holter said major variables included a Community Development Block Grant application to improve East Park, which would cost the city $25,000, and the chamber of commerce, which has subsisted in part on a $7,000 annual contribution from the city.
Holter has not budgeted any money for the chamber in 2016 because the chamber had not produced a spending plan as requested, he said. Funding could be reinserted should the chamber submit a plan.
Should the city contribute to the chamber for 2016 or receive the grant money, it could file an amended budget later in the year. Grant recipients are to be announced today.
Many departments are beginning to stock reserves for major purchases in 2017.
“We keep hearing that, it seems,” councilman Chad Adkins said. “People saying, ‘We’ll need this for 2017.’ 2017 seems to be filling up quickly.”