By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Mayor Allan Kauffman is handing members of Goshen’s City Council a balanced budget, but one that holds no line covering trash service for the city.
“While I’m showing a balanced budget, remember it does not include expense for trash collection,” Kauffman wrote in a letter to council members last week. “If that $800,000 were added, the budget would show about $550,000 more expense than revenue. While present operating balances can sustain that hit, it could not do so long-term.”
The council members will begin to tackle the budget with Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the City/Courts Building downtown. On the agenda is a “first hearing” of the budget, and talks should wrap up with the city council meeting scheduled for Oct. 23.
Talk has centered around using money from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for the city’s trash service until a decision on how to fund it permanently is made, Kauffman said. The mayor said he’s agreeable to this situation, especially if the council decides to establish a committee of residents and council members to look into a trash fee solution.
The budget does, however, include raises for city employees. The 4.25 percent raises come after four years of pay freezes, Kauffman said, and also come with an increase of health insurance costs.
“Employees have to pay the full increase of health insurance,” Kauffman said Friday in a meeting with the press. “For those at the same pay level as the firefighters or patrol officers, that’s about a 2 percent net increase.”
The pay raises are not a place that Kauffman would like the council to look for extra funds. He said the raises are “deserved.”
“Employees deserve a modest take-home pay increase after four years of no raises, or raises just enough to pay increased health insurance premiums,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman said one of the things to keep an eye on is the collection rate for property taxes, which took an unexpected dip to 92 percent last year, an unheard-of all-time-low that left city officials with less money than they expected. The mayor estimated a 95 percent collection rate for the upcoming collections in his calculations.
“We’re presuming last year’s 92 percent was an anomaly,” Kauffman said. “Normally, since the circuit breakers (tax limits triggered by income that lower what a family has to pay on a home), it’s been around 98 percent. I’m using 95 percent as a ‘What if?’ I’m hoping that’s a conservative estimate.”
Even with these economic difficulties in mind, Kauffman said he believes Goshen is better off financially than most cities of comparable size.
“Professional economists forecast national, state and local economic improvement in the next few years. Goshen is well-poised to weather a storm,” Kauffman wrote in the letter to the council members. “I will continue to budget responsibly so that Goshen never gets into the dire situation many cities, towns and counties currently face.”
By the numbers
• The 2013 budget reflects the consolidation of the Keystone I, II and Century Drive tax increment finance districts into the Consolidated Southeast Goshen TIF. Funds from this district will go to infrastructure improvements within the district, updates also seen in the budget lines for the stormwater department.
• The 2013 budget also separates out public safety for the first time. This change comes from the state-mandated software, which makes it easy to separate out these funds, which were housed under the Board of Public Works and Safety funds in the past, according to Kauffman. The only items not under the newly created public safety funds are the utilities for the fire and police stations, according to Kauffman.
• Some accounts show requests of large sums of money, which will go toward improvement projects. For example, the Storm Sewer Fund has a requested line of $500,000 for the 2013 budget. Kauffman said these large requests are for specific projects. In the case of the Storm Sewer Fund, those requested funds are going towards improvements in the Industrial Park, as previously discussed by Redevelopment Commission members, as well as other projects for the year.