Humboldt keeps spending level

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

HUMBOLDT — Humboldt’s City Council moved to save a Public Works position slated for the chopping block during a preliminary hearing on its 2010 budget Monday night. Councilman Sean McReynolds can be credited with keeping the position intact.
At issue was whether the budget could support the job, and whether there was work enough to justify the position.
City Administrator Larry Tucker argued for the reduction. “We have 10 people in public works and we can get by with nine. We’re not keeping them as busy as we should, ” he said.
McReynolds cited streets that need patching and substandard sidewalks around the city square as projects to be tackled. Plus, he offered a suggestion for funding such projects.
“There’s a sizable amount (of money) in the gas surplus fund,” he stated, noting close to $200,000 of unencumbered funds in that account.
“I don’t know what kind of emergency we’re expecting that will cost $200,000,” he said.
McReynolds suggested tapping the fund to keep the position in place and crews on the street.
“Let’s go through another year and then look at it. If we can’t justify it then, we cut it,” he said.
The council agreed.
Additional discussion centered on a 2 percent annual pay raise promised to staff, and whether the city should continue to pay 100 percent of full-time employees’ health insurance. Tucker said those benefits were a valuable recruiting tool, as well as “a good faith effort on the part of the city” to show it values its workers. The city has 28 full time employees and five part-time or seasonal staff.
“I believe it has helped (retain current staff) because employees know that they have a pay/salary plan,” that increases each year, Tucker said.
“I’m not in favor of this two percent increase if we pay 100 percent of their health insurance,” Mayor Bob Sharp said.
But Councilman Dan Julich voiced the majority viewpoint, saying, “I can’t see we’re in such dire straits that we can’t give 2 percent and insurance.” The perks stayed.
Nonetheless, all departments are facing slight reductions in their budgets.
“I’ve asked department heads to propose spending reductions and I’m happy to report they have done that,” Tucker said.
Holding as close as possible to zero growth was the goal, and Tucker said the sewer fee is the only increase being proposed.
That department is under a “five-year transition to raise rates until it becomes self-sufficient,” Tucker said. The last two years saw 25 percent increases, while the 2010 increase will be 10 percent, he said. “That’s what it’s going to take for that fund,” Tucker said.
“The swimming pool will continue to get budget transfers until we can make that fund self-sufficient,as well,” Tucker said.
City water sales have been down 10 to 15 percent the past two years, Tucker noted. “I can’t really explain why,” he said.
“Like everything else,” Tucker said, “our utilities have to be operated like a business. We’ll need to reduce expenses in water and sewer to balance our budget for next year.”
A request by the library for a budget increase to raise salaries met with an impasse.
Tucker delineated city debt and lease options, including a street sweeper and police car, both scheduled for five-year leases.
A large debt obligation came from the city’s contract to purchase the Emprise Bank building on the square for conversion to a new city hall. The purchase price is $351,000 and another $200,000 is requested for remodeling.

AT THE HEART of the budget cuts is the fact that the city is facing a 1.52 percent reduction in taxable property, Tucker said, so the levy will produce less.
Next year’s valuations are even less certain. “We don’ know what we’ll have for the future. We may have 20 families move out,” Julich said.
“We hope we can grow in housing in Humboldt,” Tucker said, “but that will take many years. Instead, he said, “we need to have a tool in place to promote business growth.”
“Our challenge is to get businesses in town and get sales tax in town. As long as we have the same Legislature, we won’t get any money” from the state, Sharp opined.