AZTEC — While city officials work on finalizing the fiscal year 2015 annual budget, the message is clear — it's time to slow spending.
The city's total proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 is $33 million, a 6-percent decrease from last year. A draft of the budget was published last month. In it, City Manager Joshua Ray said 2015 will be a "maintenance year," signaling more attention to day-to-day operations over capital projects.
"We are right on schedule with our five-year plan," Ray wrote in a text message on Thursday. "We predicted our revenues and expenditures would be very similar to where they are right now. With that in mind, we front-loaded our smaller projects to implement positive change within out community and back-loaded the plan with the larger projects which required additional planning and funding.
"This next year will highlight those larger projects as we will focus on the (East Aztec) arterial (route), the sewer outfall line and the North Main pedestrian bridge and trail."
The decade-old, $11 million arterial route project is at the top of the city's priority list, but despite securing $3.8 million in capital outlay funds from this year's state legislative session, $4.5 million is still needed to complete the road.
Smaller beautification projects that showed community development and investment like work on medians along Aztec Boulevard, rock-wall city signs, park rest rooms, policy and plan development, the vision plan and operations planning were given priority, Ray said.
But now those priorities are shifting, based on a 2.5-percent drop in returns on gross receipts taxes and a flat joint utility fund, Ray said.
The city will save by closing some positions that have gone unfilled as well as some open part-time positions.
"If revenues continue at the current rate then the budgeted expenditures will need to be reduced even greater," Ray said.
City Finance Director Kathy Lamb emphasized that the economic challenges have been trying, but made manageable by better planning and cohesion of city departments when setting budgeting priorities.
"Part of the issue is that gross receipts taxes have not recovered and the local economy is still struggling," Lamb said by phone on Thursday. "While we've been able to cut or reduce some areas of our government services, we're still experiencing a shortfall between police, libraries, parks, streets and those types of services. Trying to maintain those for the citizens, they are exceeding (our) current income."
The city is currently carrying $7 million in debt, primarily from loans that paid for construction of the city's wastewater treatment plant, the public library and Reservoir Number Three, also called Tiger Lake.
"We're trying not to have as many new projects, because, at some point, we have to slow down and build on what we have and build back what we have in reserve," Lamb said. "I'm positive about the future. It's getting better, but we're still conservative with spending because we still haven't seen significant growth."
Final adoption of the budget will be taken up by commissioners at the regularly scheduled commission meeting July 22.