Sunday, September 15, 2019
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Colusa City balances painful budget

For the first time in six years, the Colusa City Council adopted a proposed annual budget that doesn’t dip heavily into reserves. 

Although city officials said they would not start the 2019-2020 fiscal year on July 1 in the red, balancing revenues with expenses was nevertheless painful. 

The City Council approved the proposed $19 million budget, which includes capital projects, water and sewer, at a special meeting on June 18, following a presentation by Finance Director Toni Benson, who called the spending plan just a “snapshot in time,” because of its contingency on state and county budgets that are not yet adopted. 

“It’s ever-changing,” Benson said. 

In order to balance the $3,296,000 General Fund without dipping into reserves, city officials had to trim from travel, training expenses, and supplies, and leave the two unfilled positions frozen. 

“We entered this program with a $410,000 deficit and could have rolled along happily on down the road,” said Mayor Greg Ponciano. “It was only through not replacing the street supervisor ($56,000), and that’s not a permanent deal; we’ve raided our Strike Team fund, we’ve raided our supplemental law enforcement fund, and we have a hiring freeze in place. None of those things are sustainable. We’re still teetering on this edge.” 

The difference between revenue and expenses will come also this year leaving a police officer position unfilled ($79,000); the personnel restructure in the Fire Department, reducing attorney fees by $5,000 to minimum retainer, and reducing operating costs in the public works, building, planning, and recreation departments. 

While the budget takes into account an anticipated increase in sales tax and VLF by about $53,000, due to the economy, as well as an increase in building permits, business licenses, and transient occupancy taxes, city officials anticipate franchise fees down by $5,000, property taxes down by $16,000, and other revenues down by $20,000. 

The city will also see increases in liability, workers compensation, and property insurance premiums, Benson said, as well as increases in personnel costs. 

Personnel costs represent 67 percent ($2.2 million) of the General Fund expenditures, of which $953,396 are associated with retirement and health costs. 

The bulk of the General Fund is spent on public safety, Benson said.

While the city balanced the budget, in part by raiding special funds, city officials said they would not be able to repeat such a juggling act next year because special funds would not be there to go after.

Ponciano said the cuts had to be made this year because dipping into reserves again would have put the city below their required minimum. 

“I’ve said for years that we have an income problem, not an expense problem, if you look at what we have taken out of our budget over a number of years,” he said. 

City officials said they remain hopeful that the cannabis industry in Colusa will help the city boost revenue to cover expenses in the future. ■

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