Marion council discusses how to stay on budget

Staff writer

Marion city is on pace to exceed its budget authority for the year, and the City Council met March 19 in a work session to discuss how to prevent that.

As it stands, the city is projected to be short about $152,000 in the general fund by the end of the budget year.

“The new businesses like the hardware store, among others will help, but will in no way cover the loss,” city administrator Roger Holter said.

Holter recommended council members think about options to make up the shortfall, whether though spending cuts or a tax increase.

Holter said the shortfall in the budget stems from the street project that was accepted by council in October, after the budget had to be submitted in August.

A projection of the project’s impact on the budget was suppose to be completed in December, but with the resignation of the former city clerk and city administrator who compiled the budget, it was lost in the shuffle. Holter said he became aware of the situation in February and began looking for ways to make up the funding shortfall.

Council members agreed the best way to approach the shortfall would be to make spending cuts, versus raising utility rates.

Holter said the first step was looking at ways to cut day-to-day costs. He asked electrical supervisor Christian Pedersen and street director Marty Fredrickson to come up with creative ways to cut expenses. By taking this step, Holter believes the shortfall can be cut enough to avoid a raise in utility rates or taxes, and make the cuts more manageable.

Pedersen and Fredrickson are encouraging their employees to do little things every day to help save money like turning down the heat and turning off the lights at city buildings and commuting to job sites.

Fredrickson said the crews are also looking at installing a wood burning stove in the city’s shop to save on heating costs.

“We would use the wood from our tree trimming program as fuel,” he said.

The departments are also looking though old equipment and selling off things that are broken or not used anymore.

“It’s not much but the little things add up,” he said. “It’s a team effort and the employees have to look at it as that and that it takes everyone together to get this to work.”

Holter said city employees have come forward with other ideas to save the city substantial amounts, including fabricating snow removal blades out of an old blade.

“Rather than purchasing a plow truck for the $25,000 that was budgeted, they repurposed an old blade for the loaders,” Holter said. “They ordered the steel and fabricated the blade in the shop and only invested about $1,400 in materials and labor to create a tool that was as effective as what would have cost $25,000 to purchase.”

Another blade was created using similar means that fits on the city’s skid steer and can be used for smaller streets and alleyways.

Holter said the city is also saving about $10,000 this year by having city crews complete tree trimming programs, rather than hiring the job out.

Other things department heads are doing to cut costs include training to handle more projects and finding grants or other funding to purchase equipment.

Holter said that he believes the majority of the budget shortfall can be made up through money saving techniques like these.

“I am really proud of what the city teams are working on to reduce expenses and improve productivity,” Holter said. “It is the efforts of all 26 employees that will make a difference this year.”

Holter hopes the shortfall can be cut significantly enough to allow the city to complete some projects such as a new library parking lot, or dredging the city lagoons, that are not budgeted for this year.

“We’re going to face some budget challenges this year, but I am confident we can find ways to decrease spending without impacting the services we provide to residents,” he said. “Crews have had some great ideas on things they can do to cut spending and those can add up quickly.”

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