Sales/use tax pass or fail: What hangs in the balance of Craig’s sales and use tax measure? |

Sales/use tax pass or fail: What hangs in the balance of Craig’s sales and use tax measure?

Lauren Blair

— With Craig’s city election only one day away, city officials are eagerly awaiting the fate of the city sales and use tax measure put before voters.

If it passes, the imminent budget crisis facing the city will all but disappear, with enough funds remaining to invest in Craig’s future.

If it doesn’t pass, city officials will be back to the drawing board with a new cast of city council members and a new mayor, trying to identify non-essential services and capital needs they can afford to cut — or can’t afford not to cut — to make up a projected $1 million shortfall.

There’s no clear direction yet as to what will be first on the chopping block if it doesn’t pass — that will only be decided with recommendations from department heads and evaluation by new city manager, Mike Foreman, Craig City Council and the new mayor.

But here are a few items in Craig’s 2017 budget worth considering:

1) Two thirds of Craig’s $9.5 million budget is spent on personnel.

In response to declining revenues for the past five years, the city has already cut nine positions, amounting to about $900,000 in savings with benefits calculated in, according to a 2016 memo from City Finance Director Bruce Nelson.

So will the city have to cut more positions?

“I try to make that one of last things we look at,” Foreman said. “I try to make sure we keep all the employees we have today. Past city managers have done a good job of making those cuts as deep as they can.”

Rather, officials would look first at capital projects that can be postponed another year, Foreman said. But there is no guarantee. Especially if any programs or services were eliminated, certain jobs might go with them.

2) The Craig Police Department is the city’s most expensive department at nearly $3.3 million for 2017, almost one third of the total budget.

And the department has already made more than $800,000 in cuts in the past six years including four police officers and one records technician.

But their services are being called upon more than ever. In 2016, the department saw a 12-percent increase in criminal calls and a 4-percent increase in overall calls, according to the police department’s annual report.

“Right now, Craig PD, Road and Bridge, they provide great services to the community, but we just might not see it at the scale we currently have,” said Craig City Councilman Derek Duran. “The services will still be there, it might just mean slower response times, with fewer patrol, or snow might not get plowed until 10 or 11 a.m. versus 7 or 8 a.m.”

Road and Bridge is the city’s second largest department, expenditure-wise, at nearly $2.3 million.

3) Capital outlay amounts to $1.15 million in the 2017 budget.

Both Foreman and Nelson named capital projects — repaving roads, replacing dump trucks or other vehicles, park improvement projects and roof repairs — as one of the first categories to eye for cuts.

“I know there’s at least three roofs we’ve gotta look at this next year: the Boy & Girls Club, Center of Craig and one of our shops,” Nelson said.

Projects can be delayed for another year, but the city has already targeted this category heavily for cuts in recent years.

“We’ve really cut back on operations and maintenance,” Nelson said. “We forewent some things and eventually that’s going to catch up with us.”

In it for the long haul

Regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election, council members and city staff are hopeful but already eyeing their backup plans.

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