Budget hearings reveal big purchases planned for 2013

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 7, 2013

A slightly larger budget is proposed to bring new vehicles, more revenues and a slightly higher millage to pay for pension costs to residents in the upcoming fiscal year.

Departments including police and fire, the Department of Public Works and its offshoot responsibilities, and Community Development and Inspections presented their proposed budgets to City Council April 29 for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Mayor Kip Walby said it feels like it’s been a fast year since City Council was last discussing the budget. And he pointed out that, although property values have fallen 33 percent and state-shared revenues are down about 40 percent over the past few years, the city will still have about the same amount in its rainy day fund — about $12 million — as it did in 2008.

“It’s been good for St. Clair Shores, even though it’s been tough economic times,” he said at the first night of budget hearings April 29. “That’s an accomplishment. We work to keep reins on the money throughout the year.”

Acting City Manager Mike Smith said he remembered hearing a five-year forecast in 2010 that the city would have a negative fund balance by the 2013-14 fiscal year, a prediction that has not come true.

This year’s proposed budget is just shy of $44 million, compared with the $43.7 million that is projected as the total for 2012-13. Smith said some large capital expenses — including about $1.2 million in new vehicles — have been put off by the city for years.

“This is still a lean budget,” he said.

Revenues are forecasted to be $482,000 higher in 2013-14 than they were in the current fiscal year because of an increase in constitutional sales tax coming back to the city and an increased amount of ambulance runs. Total revenues are projected around $41 million and total expenditures around $43.5 million.

The city’s rainy day fund will begin 2013-14 with a balance of around $13.9 million, and Finance Director Tim Haney said they hope to end the fiscal year with a balance of more than $12.6 million.

If approved by City Council in June, the total millage for St. Clair Shores residents will be about 20.54 mils for the 2013-14 fiscal year, compared with 19.45 mils for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The increase is a reflection of higher costs for the police and fire pension fund, which will have to collect 5.54 mils from residents in the fiscal year beginning July 1, compared with 4.46 mills for the current fiscal year, and will bring in approximately $285,000 more to the fund.

In the Fire Department, the biggest change between the current and next-year’s budget is a requested “remount” of one of the department’s ambulances, at a cost of $155,000.

“Our fleet is getting very old,” said Fire Chief George Morehouse. “We have three ambulances with over 100,000 miles on them … averaging close to 20 alarms per day.

“The rigs are on the road a lot. In the tenure that I’ve been here, almost three years, we have been increasing. We are busier and busier.”

He said they are trying for a “band-aid” approach to help the vehicles last a little longer, to get a year in between replacements. Two rigs were purchased at the same time and, so, are wearing out at the same rate. Morehouse said he hopes not to have to request a new ambulance from the city until the 2015-16 fiscal year budget.

The Community Services Department, or CDI, has a $111,000 lower budget projected for the next fiscal year, mostly because of personnel changes from full-time employees to some contracted workers, said CDI Director Chris Rayes. Permits and associated revenues are up, too, because of more residents renovating their homes.

“Fringe benefit costs in your department actually went down by 12 percent over last year, which is actually the opposite of most departments,” pointed out Councilman John Caron.

That isn’t the case in all departments. The Police Department will spend about $705,000 more in 2013-14 in fringe benefits for its employees, and “pension costs are responsible for 90 percent of the fringe benefit increases,” Smith said.

All together, the Police Department budget is about $1.3 million higher for the coming fiscal year. Capital expenditures include new audio and video equipment for police cruisers — part of which will be paid for with grant money — and some new radar equipment, which will be subsidized with grant funds, as well.

The department also has to rehabilitate its gun range and, with the untimely death of one of its K-9 officers, Chase, will likely purchase a new police dog.

The Information Systems Department is projecting a savings of almost $11,000 for the coming fiscal year, and has also added wi-fi service to Lac Sainte Clair Park and the municipal pool and marina, parts of City Hall and also to Blossom Heath Park.

In the Department of Public Works, Caron questioned whether the $120,000 the department allotted for pest control would be enough, stating that it “doesn’t seem to fit the number of calls we get asking for this service.”

But Smith said they planned to bring a plan back before City Council soon to target problem areas in the city.

“We anticipate we’ll be able to get out in front of it,” he said.

In the sanitation budget of DPW, the city will save some money this year by switching to a new waste hauler effective July 1, but most of the savings will be seen in the next fiscal year’s budget, Caron explained. The water department is saving money by using the Ten Mile Water Reservoir and, because of that, water rates will stay the same for consumers this fiscal year — $34.62. There will be a 4 percent increase for sanitary sewer charges passed along from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, so residents will pay $50.61 per thousand cubic feet, and the storm sewer charge will be increased as well, to $8.05.

“If we didn’t do the things we did, we would have had to see the increase,” said DPW Director Bryan Babcock.

But the biggest purchases planned by DPW are the purchase of five pickup trucks, two large dump trucks that double as snow-plow trucks and a backhoe excavator, which will replace a 1996 model that has a broken stabilizer arm and has had the bucket fall off multiple times.

For the plow trucks, the department is using a congestition mitigation grant of $320,000 — with a local match of $100,000 — that aims to reduce emissions from transportation-related sources. The plow trucks will also be equipped with underbelly scrapers so they can push snow off the road at the same time they dump salt.

City Council will approve a final budget in June.