Craig City Council adds police detective, economic development funding to 2018 budget
CRAIG — With the budget season coming to a close and the glittering promise of $2.1 million in new sales tax revenue ahead, Craig City Council approved a final 2018 budget Tuesday with only two small changes.
Though more funds could be appropriated by council throughout the year, council members are taking a conservative approach to managing the new revenues generated by the sales tax increase, which is set to go into effect July 1.
“We understand this tax barely passed and that we need to really take care of this money,” said Mayor John Ponikvar. “The citizens expect us to take care of this money and make it last.”
Council voted Tuesday to reinstate a Craig Police Department investigator position, which will be focused on domestic violence and sexual assault cases. The position was eliminated when 17-year department veteran Travis Young resigned in August. The position will cost the city approximately $95,000 for salary and benefits.
“I had talked to several people in the community and … I felt like it was really something that this community needed to continue,” said Craig City Manager Mike Foreman. “With the passage of the sales tax, it gave us the opportunity to present that to council.”
The position had been funded for nearly nine years with federal grant money, but Advocates Crisis Support Services, which works closely with the investigator, learned in October that the grant was not renewed. And in the heat of budget cuts this summer as the city tightened it’s belt, the position was axed.
Commander Bill Leonard, with the Craig Police Department, who oversees and supports the work of investigators, presented to council about the need for the position at Foreman’s request.
“It’s important to understand what these officers and investigators deal with,” Leonard said. “Some of these sex assault and domestic violence cases go on for years. … It requires someone who has a lot of patience, communication skills and the ability to build trust with the victims of these crimes.”
Council’s only other recent addition to the 2018 budget was to re-up full funding for Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership. Council had previously budgeted funding for the organization at only half the usual amount, or $17,500, but elected Tuesday to fund economic development in full at $35,000.
Ponikvar was keen to see CMEDP’s work on securing broadband funding and implementation continue.
“We don’t want that effort to be wasted or go by the wayside,” he said. “We feel that’s one of the most important things we can do for the future of our community is get that broadband infrastructure in here.”
Despite operating at a deficit this year, the city is projected to carry forward a $2.2 million general fund surplus from 2017 into 2018, in addition to its mandated reserves of 25 percent (just over $2 million). The surplus, in part, is a result of additional cuts made during the summer, amounting to nearly $1 million of savings in 2017, as well as surplus carried over from years prior.
Foreman proposed to council Tuesday that the city offer a 5-percent, one-time bonus to city employees, utilizing some of the 2017 surplus, as city employees have not seen any raises since 2013. The bonus would have cost the city’s general fund just over $200,000, but council voted down the idea, despite some council members who argued in favor it.
“The one thing I heard from council this past week is they want to make sure that they adhere to the wishes of the citizens,” Foreman said. “The citizens have given them an opportunity to have a balanced budget and have some money to look at new projects, and they want to make sure the citizens have input in it.”
Sales tax revenues have also been down in recent months, Foreman said, adding to council’s conservatism. With nearly a 50-percent reserve now, Ponikvar hopes to save the funds for a rainy day.
“In my mind, that’s exactly where we want to be,” Ponikvar said. “We’re committed to the long haul.”
Reporter Sasha Nelson contributed to this story.