Editorial: Showing fiscal responsibility

Editorial Board Renee Campbell, publisher Jim Patterson, editor Andy Bockelman, assistant editor Kaitlyn Marchbanks, community representative Charlynne Wondra, community representative

In the Friday, Dec. 1 edition of the Craig Press, we were pleased to print the following headline above our lead story on the front page: “Council adopts 2018 budget: City takes conservative approach to new sales tax revenue.”

Readers may recall that, in a Nov. 9 editorial — following city voters’ razor-thin approval of a measure to increase the city sales tax rate — we strongly encouraged City Council to keep in mind the contentious path to approval the sales tax had traversed and to always remember that nearly half of our city’s voters had opposed the increase.

“… city leaders should not forget that a significant percentage of Craig voters were opposed to the tax increase, some of them adamantly so,” we wrote. “ … All that adds up to one thing moving forward: The residents of the city of Craig will be watching, and they’ll be watching closely, so it is now the responsibility of City Council members to produce tangible results and prove themselves worthy of the trust voters have placed in them.”

And, with last week’s approval of the 2018 budget, it seems our leaders are serious about doing just that. Though additional funds could be allocated throughout the coming year, the new budget demonstrates the reserve and fiscal conservatism we will need as we continue to recover from the effects of the Great Recession.

While it would have been easy for council members to immediately ramp up spending on the promise of an estimated $2.1 million in new sales tax revenue, they instead kept spending pretty much in line with budgets from recent years. In fact, only two notable increases appeared in the new budget: the reinstatement of a domestic violence investigator’s position at the Craig Police Department — which will cost about $95,000 per year in salary and benefits — and the reinstatement of the full $35,000 funding allotment to the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, which had been cut in half in anticipation of decreased revenue.

We feel these two additions are both warranted and appropriate. With domestic violence and sexual assault cases on the rise, both regionally and across the nation, this position is indisputably vital to ensuring public safety. As to the CMEDP allotment, we found ourselves in this fiscal crisis in the first place due, in large part, to declining sales tax revenues precipitated by the economic downturn. The long-term solution to this will be found in stimulating and diversifying the local economy, the task CMEDP was organized to tackle.

On a recommendation from City Manager Mike Foremen, council members also considered budgeting a 5-percent, one-time bonus to city employees, who have not seen a salary increase since 2013. The bonus would have cost the general fund about $200,000, and, though, in our opinion, city employees deserve the extra money, we feel it was a prudent move to turn back the proposal for now. It should be remembered that sales tax revenue has been trending downward for several years now, and the sales tax increase is not a silver bullet.

Perhaps City Council can revisit the bonus issue down the road, and we hope that’s the case. But at present, it seems clear that fiscal reserve is far and away the wisest course of action.

“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 during the budget approval discussions. “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.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Through passage of this budget, council members have made an excellent beginning in the quest to leverage the new sales tax dollars into lasting economic recovery and eventual economic prosperity.

For that, they have our support and our thanks.

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