No rate changes in Longview City Council proposed budget plan
July 30, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Across-the-board rates for residents will remain steady next year under a budget unveiled Tuesday to the Longview City Council.
In the first of a series of discussions by the council that will end in the Aug. 29 adoption of a budget, City Manager David Willard laid out the "conservative" $153.1 million budget that includes the purchase of a new firetruck and ambulance, additions to the Jack Mann Splash Pad, street maintenance work, the first installment of payments on a comprehensive plan for the city and raises for city employees.
"Even with Longview's economic stability, there is still the need to budget as conservatively as possible, and although we have seen increases in the cost of providing services, we understand that, as any business or family budget, we at the city must also balance our expenses with the available income," Willard said.
The city budget is on par with the spending plan for this fiscal year, with a $17 million decrease in property values translating to about $75,000 less in revenue.
Willard said the city also is budgeting to receive the same amount in sales tax revenue expected this year at $20.5 million.
"We just didn't see a huge growth in revenue, so we didn't grow our expenditures," said Mary Ann Miller, assistant to the city manager.
Among the large expenditures was the completion of a market-based compensation plan designed to make all city employees competitively compensated.
Miller said 26 percent of city employees are paid market-average rates. That means 74 percent of employees would see some sort of wage increase under the budget plan.
A 3 percent pay increase for all employees in fiscal year 2011-12 helped some positions reach market rates, Miller said.
Also included in the payroll adjustments would be additional salary steps for police and fire employees.
The starting salary for Longview officers is $46,390, with a maximum of $52,485 reached after five years. While the department's starting pay is higher than other area departments, the lower ceiling has caused some employees not to stay in Longview, officials have said.
"With the additional steps, it helps us be able to keep the tenured employees in the department because it gives them opportunity for a pay raise beyond the first five years," said department spokeswoman Kristie Brian. "It also makes us more competitive with other similarly sized departments."
Another proposed purchase would add a fifth frontline ambulance and crew to the city's fleet, which has operated at four since 1995 as the number of calls have more than doubled.
If approved, the staff's budget predicts an equal division of revenue between fees, property taxes and sales taxes for the general fund.
Of the $61.2 million general fund, $19,651,041 - or 32 percent - would be spent on police; $18,127,180 - or 30 percent - would be spent on the fire department; $5,962,177 would be spent on parks; and $5,035,644 would be spent on streets and traffic, according to Willard's presentation.
The general fund balance after expenditures and the purchase of several large items - including a new ladder truck and breathing apparatuses for the Longview Fire Department and upgrades to the Jack Mann Splash Pad - would be almost $10 million at the end of the year.
While the budget does not explicitly account for looming purchases, such as the construction of a new animal shelter, Miller said a reason for the large amount of left-over money in the general fund is so the funds will be available if needed.
"There is not really anything budgeted in here for the animal shelter ... we definitely kept that in mind. We know we are going down the road to building a new animal shelter," Miller said.
While city staff will not ask for an increase in water and sewer fees or in property taxes, they will request a $1-per-month increase in sanitation service rates unless the council approves a revamped policy designed to promote recycling and save the city money. That plan also was unveiled at Tuesday's meeting.
Mayor Jay Dean encouraged council members not to ask questions Tuesday, but instead use the week to review the material and solicit answers to questions so members can discuss the proposal when it reconvenes Aug. 8.
"Let's take some time and look over these numbers; determine needs versus wants, and make sure we have a good conservative budget again this year," Dean said.