No shelter from the budget crunch
By Doug Lindner
SOLON– It’s a tight budget for the second year in a row.
Solon city staff, elected representatives and appointed officials met together at a Jan. 8 Solon City Council meeting to grind out the details of the 2014-2015 budget.
Early figures put the budget over $40,000 in the red, but by the end of Wednesday’s lengthy meeting, it appeared the city was close to balancing its expenses and revenues.
But the savings could come at the expense of delaying the pending construction of a new shelter at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area, scaled back improvements at the fire station and a reduction in a set-aside fund for new equipment.
It also would put off the purchase of downtown holiday decorations and shift some funding from the city’s general fund to its water and sewer accounts.
Those items were all agreed to informally by council members at the end of the work session.
At the beginning of the meeting, the city was looking at a deficit, and representatives of the library board of trustees and the city’s parks and recreation commission were alerted of the pending deficit and possible cuts.
Council member Steve Stange forewarned the groups but also indicated each department would be responsible for deciding how cuts would be implemented.
According to city administrator Cassandra Lippincott, the city gained about a half-million dollars in valuation for the upcoming budget, from $72,921,000 in the current fiscal to $73,517,000 for 2014-2015.
Yet general fund revenues are down to about the same level as 2012-2013 because the city’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) budget increased by about $5 million. Lippincott said that’s mostly due to the certification of debt on several infrastructure projects.
“Hopefully, we’re starting at a point where we’re not asking for much,” noted Solon public library director Kris Brown, as the budget discussions began.
Brown and library board president Paula Sears presented the library’s budget request, which conservatively asked for only the addition of a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase and $4,000 for repaving the library parking lot.
Because the library serves a significant population from outside the city limits, funding is split between Johnson County and the City of Solon. For the upcoming budget year, the city’s percentage of the library funding will be 48 percent.
Based on figures presented at Wednesday’s session, the 2014-2015 library budget will be approximately $264,000, with the city bearing $124,000 of the cost.
“It’s a conservative budget and we appreciate that,” said mayor Cami Rasmussen.
There were some discussions regarding future maintenance items for the library, including the eventual replacement of carpet. The library anticipated no changes to staffing levels.
It was a harder row to hoe when the members of the parks and recreation commission sat down at the table.
Council members began by discussing $10,000 under the parks budget earmarked for 24 holiday banner enhancers– lighted metal frames– for downtown light poles.
Stange suggested maybe cutting the number in half. “In my thinking,” he said, “I think you try doing some, maybe a couple in each block, and we’ll just do a little bit every year until we get there.”
“Well, let’s just make a note of this page and we’ll come back to it as we get a little father through the budget,” Rasmussen said.
Under the recreation portion of the budget, the parks and recreation commission continued to seek funds for a park shelter and two additional ball diamonds at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area (SRNA).
Parks and Recreation coordinator Travis Young indicated materials for the shelter were expected to cost $16,300, while the ball diamonds would be $25,000 each.
If the ball diamonds were limited to just backstops and infield material, he said, both could likely be done for $25,000.
A trust and agency fund for the SRNA, originally established to fund playground equipment, might also be utilized, he explained.
Rasmussen, however, was wary of tapping the fund, even though its use was not restricted.
“I always express caution using that money for the fact that it took a very long time to build up that amount,” she said.
Stange subsequently questioned the intended use of the ball diamonds, wondering aloud if a cheaper, more primitive setting could serve the same purpose.
Young noted the ball diamonds would be targeted for children ages six through nine, while Solon public works director Scott Kleppe said that creating temporary fields as Stange suggested would provide space only for T-ball.
“One of the problems we’re going to run into is these fields are also intended to take some relief off of the need in the community,” he said, “and we won’t see the community utilizing those at all.”
The members of the parks and recreation commission– chair Lindsey Carey, Shannon Smith and Shannon Hansel– expressed a certain amount of frustration at the process.
The commission members had gone before the council last year asking to build the park shelter with an $11,000 surplus in the parks and recreation budget, but council members were struggling at that point to deal with last year’s shortfalls, along with the flooding of Randall Park.
Stange defended the city’s position, noting the city spends more on parks and recreation than is reflected in the department’s budget. He also suggested the city’s residents subsidize the service for rural families.
Young estimated that 40 percent of the participants are residents of the city, and pointed out that non-residents pay an additional $5 per registration fee.
After the departure of the parks and recreation commission, the council members discussed a request from the Solon Old Gold Dining meal site, erroneously reported as previously being approved, and began taking the scissors to larger capital projects in an attempt to balance the budget.
The congregate meals site is seeking between $3,000-6,000 to help fund the program’s site manager, and council members seemed in agreement to at least fund $3,000 of the request.
“You look at the money that we spend on kids’ activities,” Stange said, referring to the recreation budget, “and the amount of money we spend on elderly. It’s night and day.”
Council members moved quickly to erase the $10,000 in funding for the banner enhancers, and eliminated the parks and recreation request of $15,000 for the park shelter.
The remaining deficit will be reduced by the following measures, according to Lippincott:
Reducing the Solon Fire Department budget by $10,000, striking some maintenance work and the purchase of a new community siren;
Transferring approximately $9,400 in expenditures from the general fund to the water and sewer funds; and
Dropping funds targeted to be set aside for a street sweeper by $2,500, from $12,000 to $9,500.