by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — City administration and council members are hoping for a cold winter that will result in increased gas sales as they struggle with balancing the municipal budget for 2014.
Newly elected council members and incumbents met in a work session Tuesday night to go over version eight of the city budget. Budget talks will continue during the finance work session on Monday, October 18.
Administrator David Johnston said if there is a cold winter and the gas enterprise can make an estimated $400,000 in profits, then a transfer of approximately $200,000 may be made to the General Fund which could help the city’s finances.
Discussions Tuesday, Nov. 12, indicated the city will likely look at another water rate increase of about 5.5%, for commercial and extra-territorial (outside city limits) users in the coming year. Johnston said the city council members do not want to increase water rates for residential customers, but none of the number are yet set in stone.
“Administration and finance have made every expense cut we can make and still provide, at least minimal city services,” Johnston told the group Tuesday night. “The city will have to be ‘lean and mean’ in some areas, including repairs and maintenance in the coming year, Johnston said.
The city will have to readdress revenues in the Gas Enterprise in February or March 2014, depending on the severity of this winter’s weather.
Johnston said there is little room for personnel cuts in the city with ten sworn officers in the police department, including the chief, and three employees each in the gas and streets departments and only one person assigned to the parks department. There was some discussion Tuesday night on position eliminations within the police department, but Johnston said they did not go very far.
As things stand at this stage, the city remains about $200,000 upside down in the General Fund.
In the past two years the city has lost an estimated $125,000 per year to the decreased mill levy and approximately $300,000 per year for the past three years in utility revenues that came from the prison.
City council members will be back at the budget table next week, with newly elected Mayor James Eccher and council members James Baca and Clint Boehler taking the oath of office in the second half of the regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Johnston said he hopes to have a vote on the budget by the first meeting in December to meet the mid-month deadline. If that isn’t accomplished the council will have to meet in a special session before their second meeting in December on the 17th.