Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

July 22, 2013

Corsicana City Council faces budget shortage

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The Corsicana City Council was asked Monday to consider increases in fees to help balance the budget this next year, but council members aren’t showing much enthusiasm, according to City Manager Connie Standridge.

“They’ve said they don’t want to raise fees,” she said. “But we have to make the recommendation.”

The advice is to increase water and sewer rates by 20 cents per 1,000 gallons on each on the first tier, and to increase garbage rates from $11.25 to $11.50. The city staff is also recommending increasing the price for a second garbage cart from $4 to $4.25.

For a senior citizen, the difference per month would be $1.10  per month. For an average household that uses 5,000 gallons of water a month, the average difference would be $2.10 per month.

Money is tight in a number of areas in the city, but for different reasons. The city’s largest fund, called the general fund, which pays for services like police and fire, is down because property taxes are down. The closing of two major employers, the Home Depot Warehouse and Lance Foods, are the primary reasons for that, according to Standridge. To help make up the $560,000 shortfall, she is recommending borrowing from the $400,000 the two companies paid the city for not living up to their tax abatement contracts. It seemed to be an idea supported by Mayor Chuck McClanahan.

“We could use the Home Depot/Lance money. They’re what caused this,” he said.

The city has a healthy $4 million reserve or fund balance, but bond rating companies take a dim view of cities that dip into their savings accounts to balance their budgets. Using that money could cost the city dearly in terms of interest rates in the future.

“Any decrease to your bond rating would be extremely detrimental,” Standridge told the council. “At some point you’re going to have to issue debt and it will cost you.”

The city’s utility fund is low because water sales are down. The city expects to end the year $1.5 million in the red in that fund. The city has a healthy fund balance, but that department has more debt than the other departments, currently about $40 million.

The goal is to stave off the construction of the proposed Lake Halbert treatment plant for as long as possible. The only kink in that plan is that the city is currently working under a waiver from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality because the Navarro Mills plant is getting close to capacity.

The ambulance fund is down because runs have decreased, and the city and county put less into the fund this past year. The city is going to decrease the amount it siphons off the fund by $200,000 this next year, and is asking the county to contribute an additional $200,000, as well. That would bring the county’s contribution to the fund to $350,000. The city takes money from the ambulance fund to repay the general fund for services like administration, utility costs and human resources costs.

The city council has been asked to consider hiring three new paramedics for the ambulance service. Currently, there are four ambulances in service at any given time, and two reserve trucks. Adding three new personnel would staff half an ambulance, since it would be adding one person per shift.

The sanitation fund, which is basically the money for the landfill, will be in the hole nearly $300,000 this year, because of the cost of constructing a new sector of usable dump space. The city has to prepare the ground with enormous plastic liners and clay layers to prevent ground contamination. If the city does half in one fiscal year and half in the next fiscal year it spreads out the cost of the $600,000 project.

“The department heads have said they’ve cut as far as they can without getting into personnel,” Standridge said.

If the city decides to take the route of lay-offs, as it did several years ago, the first people to go would be the new code enforcement officer, a parks employee, and a person in human resources, all three of whom are very recent hires.

“This is the gloomiest budget we’ve had so far,” Standridge told the council Monday. The next budget meeting is scheduled for Aug. 20.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com