Craig City Council approves flat 2012 budget

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In other action …

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Craig City Council:

• Approved, 6-0, renewal of the 3.2-percent beer retail liquor license for Safeway Store number 635 at 1295 W. Victory Way.

• Approved, 6-0, renewal of the hotel and restaurant liquor license for Vallarta’s Mexican restaurant at 1111 W. Victory Way.

• Approved, 6-0, a special events liquor license for St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church for a New Year’s Eve party Dec. 31, 2011, at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion, 750 E. Fourth Street.

• Approved, 6-0, a special events liquor license for the Craig Rotary Club Diamonds & Spurs dinner/dance Jan. 28, 2012, at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion, 750 E. Fourth Street.

• Approved, 6-0, Ordinance No. 1017 to increase water and wastewater rates.

• Heard a financial report for October from city finance director Bruce Nelson.

• Heard water and wastewater monthly reports.

— Councilor Joe Bird was absent from Tuesday’s meeting

Ask any Craig City Council member about next year’s budget and you’re likely to hear one word more than others — flat.

For Craig City Manager Jim Ferree, a flat budget is better than a decreasing budget.

“We don’t have as dramatic peaks and valleys as a lot of mountain resort communities, so we’ve been able to weather the (economic) storm,” Ferree said. “When times were good, we didn’t add a ton of unnecessary employees, which has allowed us to maintain services while a lot of other municipalities struggle.”

The city council presented its proposed 2012 budget Tuesday night for a second reading and a final opportunity for the public to issue comments. Hearing none, the council approved the budget 6-0.

It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Ferree told council members the budget had not been changed since it was first drafted in August. However, he said questions on capital improvement projects remain in the parks and recreation department.

Those questions will likely not be answered until some type of resolution can be worked out with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 on the acquisition of 2.88 acres of open space referred to as Craig City Park.

Ferree said the parks and recreation department’s budget in 2012 totals $1.4 million plus an additional $390,000 for capital outlay.

Regardless of what happens with the VFW, Ferree said one capital improvement project is almost a certainty next year — upgrades to the skate park.

Ferree said it’s going to cost approximately $350,000 to upgrade the skate park. He said parks and recreation director Dave Pike is planning to apply for a $250,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant, and the remaining $100,000 would be paid by the city.

Ferree said Pike has not yet applied for the grant, but wasn’t worried about whether the funds would be there or not.

“If we don’t get it, we don’t spend it,” Ferree said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Although the budget is flat, there was a point during the year when city officials were concerned they might have to cut or reduce services.

“This year we were really concerned about this budget cycle,” mayor Terry Carwile said. “The thing that kind of saved our bacon was the unexpected money we received in severance taxes and mineral lease dollars.”

Without the bonus of $700,000 from energy activity, Ferree said the budget would have been $400,000 lower than the one approved Tuesday night.

In addition, Ferree said sales tax revenues are showing signs of coming back. According to city records, September sales taxes were up 16 percent in September compared to September 2010.

Ferree said sales tax increases are a good first sign of a strengthening economy, but the city probably owes thanks to the energy industry for that unexpected boost as well.

“It looks like we may be working our way out of the recession,” Ferree said. “I’m not sure why exactly, but I think it’s probably from oil and gas activity.”

Regardless of the source, Ferree said increased sales tax revenue is encouraging, particularly because that money feeds the police, road and bridge, parks and recreation and capital outlay funds.

Ferree said those four funds make up more than 75 percent of general fund expenditures in an average year.

Overall, the city budget peaks at $17.7 million, which is 2.9-percent higher than the 2011 budget.

About $7.3 million, which is 7.3 percent higher than the 2011 budget, is allocated to special funds such as water, wastewater, solid waste, medical benefits and The Center of Craig.

The remaining $10.3 million is tied into the general fund. The general fund is increasing by $3,000 compared to 2011.

Ferree said 58 percent of the 2012 general fund will be spent on personnel, 25 percent on operation expenses and 17 percent on capital improvement projects.

“That’s pretty normal for a service-oriented business like we are,” Ferree said.

Councilor Gene Bilodeau said most people cringe at the sound of “budget season,” but he praised city staffers for making the process as streamlined as possible.

“We are very fortunate to have a very good staff and a very good city manager,” Bilodeau said. “They do a great job year in and year out to take the guess work out of the budget process. By the time we (council) meet for our first budget meeting, it’s pretty much all ready to go.”

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