Mayor: Change in Aurora officials makes 2014 budget passage a challenge

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- Mayor James Fisher acknowledged that crafting an outline for the city's 2014 proposed budget "is somewhat of a challenge this year because we have an outgoing mayor [Fisher] and an incoming mayor [Ann Womer Benjamin].

"Everybody seems to have a point of view on how we should manage the city's finances," he added.

Fisher, who did not seek the city's top job in the November election, spoke Dec. 9 about the budget, which will ultimately be molded by Womer Benjamin, who was elected mayor on Nov. 5 and will assume the mayoral duties Jan 1.

"I believe this is a pretty good budget," he said. "I think the tax revenue projection is somewhat conservative. I think that [Finance Director] Bob Paul has always conservatively forecast revenue."

Appropriations for all funds in 2014 are estimated at about $27.69 million.

"The city has taken a conservative approach when forecasting 2014 tax revenue," Fisher said. "It will be the first year the city won't receive estate tax, which generally is in the $900,000 range."

The general fund budget estimates the city will receive about $11.5 million in income tax, about $1 million more than in 2013, with property tax revenue estimated at $1.22 million, admission taxes at $300,000, Local Government Funds at $154,000 and hotel-motel taxes at $130,000.

PAUL EXPLAINED that income tax represents 81 percent of estimated income for the general fund, and losses of revenue in other areas has caused a greater dependency on that revenue source.

Fisher said there aren't a lot of long-term investment recommendations in this budget.

"For example, the $750,000 anticipated spending for the buildings at Sunny Lake [Park] are not in this budget," Fisher said. "I've openly communicated that when you get into the buildings at Sunny Lake vs. something else, I believe the incoming administration should be able to set those priorities with Council.

"I believe the mayor-elect will have every opportunity to take a look at this budget and make recommendations," he said.

Fisher said since the proposed budget was forwarded from Council's committee of the whole to Council on Dec. 2, that gives Council members current and new five meetings to discuss it and make amendments before they have to vote on it.

"In my opinion, it has always been a very good discussion [among city leaders]," Fisher said. "About 77 percent of the budget deals with people and related benefits, so [the rest] is left [for debate]. There is a significant reserve number that should be of comfort for all elected officials that will be here [at City Hall] on Jan. 2."

THE CITY will go into 2014 with a carryover of about $7 million, compared to $6.4 million heading into 2013, according to Paul. One five-year estimate indicates the city will go into 2015 with a $7.22 million carryover and that will increase to $8.6 millionheading into 2018.

But if Council decides to spend money on major road and storm sewer projects in coming years, the carryover into 2018 could be as low as $3.24 million.

The proposed general fund budget will increase by 3.59 percent from 2013 to 2014. Estimated 2014 general fund appropriations are $14.32 million, compared to $13.82 million in 2013.

According to their agreements, the wage increases for fire, service and clerical union workers will be 2.25 percent. No workforce additions are included in the 2014 budget.

Paul said the police department budget will increase 6 percent because of the addition of two officers and higher overtime, while the planning-zoning-building department's budget is up 8 percent because of increased inspection costs.

The finance department is up 7.7 percent because of increased RITA fees, real estate taxes for the golf course property and the human resources position being placed under the mayor's budget, according to Paul.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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