October 31, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 28

Little change in Cheney general fund budgets

Budget season has officially begun in Cheney, although city staff have been working on numbers for some time now.

At its Oct. 22 meeting, City Council members heard presentations from departments that rely on general fund income, namely revenues from property and sales taxes along with imposed fees and other charges. Department heads presented summations of activities in 2013, goals for 2014 and in some cases budget figures for the coming year.

City Administrator Arlene Fisher said the number one goal is to maintain the same level of service Cheney residents have come to expect. It’s something made more difficult in recent years not only from a slowly recovering economy but from legislation coming out of Olympia and out of the ballot box.

Voters passed an initiative in 2011 privatizing liquor sales and distribution, which according to headlines Fisher clipped from newspapers in Olympia, Seattle and Spokane have cost millions of dollars in revenue to state and local coffers.

“We’ve seen it right here in our own city,” Fisher told the council.

That said, the Administration Department’s proposed 2014 budget comes in at $977,300, just over an 11.49 percent increase from the $865,000 budget in 2013. Most of the increase comes from a clerk’s position shared between administration, finance, municipal court and solid waste departments, with administration assuming 80 percent.

The only other areas of the administration budget with increases were funding for legislative work, up from $70,700 to $76,000, and city beautification, up from $16,200 to $22,000. Fisher said the beautification money is shared with public works and includes money carried over from 2013.

Several council members noted a couple welcome signs along entrances to the city were in dilapidated condition and could use upgrades and repairs. Fisher noted the money for such work could come out of city beautification. She also said some of the administration goals for 2014 were to continue to expand the city’s Industrial and Commerce Park’s marketing opportunities, work on the widening of SR 904 and “get our share of state revenues.”

Finance Director Cindy Niemeier said there wasn’t much change in her department’s $1.1279 million budget. Finance has 10 employees along with big expenses in a variety of leases ranging from the IBM mainframe computer system to copier leases as well as state audit expenses.

Niemeier said department personnel do a number of tasks, including processing 7,652 electrical and 933 water work orders through Oct. 18, averaging 43 per day, 676 business licenses as well as filing 313 pubic records requests. The latter puts them on a pace to match last year’s number of 375, with only 85-90 being simple police records.

The department’s goals for 2014 are to continue its record management project as well as “actively monitor and collect sales tax” and digitize ordinances and resolutions to allow easier access.

Finally, presiding judge Gregory J. Tripp and administrator/commissioner Terri Cooper presented the council with the municipal court budget, which includes $246,200 in salaries, benefits and judicial services – down from last year’s $302,800 – and $41,112 in rent, supplies, communications and travel. The court has seen a downward slide in total filings and revenue the past couple years, with 4,225 filings in 2013 representing a 32 decline since a high of 6,489 in 2010 and the $287,300 a 16 percent dip since a high of $342,800 in 2009.

“This is really a bare bones budget,” Cooper said.

Some of the accomplishments listed in 2013 for the court were 546 EWU volunteer hours, a $5,200 value, securing a $25,000 public defense services grant, the inclusion of a volunteer domestic violence advocate and reducing jail costs through jail alternatives. Goals for 2014 include continuing these measures as well as technology improvements, promotion of the Cheney Youth Court Conference and work on anti-harassment domestic violence/stalking protection orders.

“Basically we’ll do the best we can with the staff we have,” Tripp said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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