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6/10/2014 11:02:00 AM
City of Williams budget up 7 percent
Bed, Board and Booze money to go toward pool and improvements at Cureton Park

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Money for several capital projects, increased funding for the water department and a raise for city employees are all included in the city of Williams' 2014-2015 budget.

The Williams City Council adopted the budget at its May 29 meeting. The total budget for 2014-2015 is $20,256,696, which is up about 7.31 percent from the 2013-2014 budget of $18,877,503.

Finance Director Keith Buonocore attributes the increase to the general fund budget being up by about 10.53 percent, which includes about $12,000 of election related expenses, about $52,000 for new accounting software that will allow for online bill payment, about $40,000 for a new patrol vehicle for the police department, about $25,000 for a new truck for the building department, about $18,000 in payments for new airport hangars, and about $50,000 for addressing snow issues at the Forest Service building.

"We're trying to kind of progress and get at least the equipment up to where it needs to be," Buonocore said. "If we don't have the equipment we can't do what we need to in the community."

In addition, money from the Bed, Board and Booze tax fund will go toward recreation facilities, including about $6,000 for pool rehab costs and about $50,000 for improvements such as a new field, fencing and landscaping at Cureton Park.

Another reason for the budget increase is the nearly 23 percent rise in the water department budget. The adopted budget includes $1,790,899 for water, compared to $1,459,605 in the last budget.

The increased funding will be used for well electricity, repair and maintenance, pipes and valves, meter replacement, miscellaneous capital and emergency contingency expenses.

"That (water) system is ancient, and everything is starting to fail and we can't fail - that's water," Buonocore said. "When the Indians ran out of water they moved. Well we can't move a city."

Buonocore also hopes the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) will loan the city some money to help deal with the current water crisis. Representatives from the organization will visit town in the coming weeks.

"I think they're committed to helping us and we could surely use the help," Buonocore said.

About $350,000 generated from a 0.5 percent sales tax increase that went into effect in March of 2013 was originally allocated for street repairs. However, that money will likely need to be used for recent unexpected water-related costs.

"You've got to sustain water," Buonocore said. "Streets, well we can suffer with those a little bit more. But we can't do without water. Without water we can't really operate, especially as a tourist destination that we have."

In terms of staffing costs in the adopted budget, the city recently hired a full-time public works director for the first time since 2011. In addition, the 2014-2015 budget includes enough money for as much as a 3 percent pay raise for city staff. City Manager Brandon Buchanan will determine how to distribute the money. Factors could include performance evaluations or a cost of living adjustment.

On the revenue side, the city's sales tax and Bed, Board and Booze tax revenue are up 11.87 percent year to date. So far the two taxes have brought in about $3,618,589.

"The tourist numbers are up, so that means sales tax should be up because they should be spending their money here," Buonocore said. "And that's the biggest source of our revenue is sales tax."

However, several unexpected costs have also come up with the city's water crisis, including exploring using the Rodeo Well, potentially developing two other well areas and dealing with the failure of Dogtown I Well.

"So even though we're blessed on one side with higher sales tax (revenue), we're kind of struggling with higher expenses too," Buonocore said. "But the thing is we're managing it well."

He added: "With the increase in the costs you see, with the (WIFA) loan and the increase in revenues, we should be able to do well in 2015."

Home Rule option

City council members also passed a resolution at their May 29 meeting waiving the alternative expenditure limit for fiscal year 2014-2015.

The current expenditure limitation expires on June 30. However, because of a state mandated change in election times from spring to fall, voters will not have a chance to weigh in on the alternative expenditure limitation until the Aug. 26 primary.

"By law we're supposed to have an expenditure limitation on 2014-15, but being we have a fall election it falls after we have to have the expenditure approval," Buonocore said. "So the state in their wisdom said, 'Well okay, we won't require this or we won't fine you or penalize you for not having it.'"

Instead of including the 2014-2015 alternative expenditure limit on the ballot, the city has added the limit for 2018-2019, so there will still be four years of figures.

Also known as the home rule option, the alternative expenditure limitation would allow the city to determine how much money it can spend in the next four years, based on how much revenue would be available.

The money would pay for general government operations, culture and recreation, public safety, health and welfare, debt service, economic development, highways and streets, electric system, water and sewer system, sanitation services, golf course and airport, public safety and community development block grants.

If voters do not approve the home rule option, the city would have to follow state imposed spending limitations. The limitations are based on a formula that starts with the city's expenditures in 1979-1980 and takes into account population changes, inflation and estimated exclusions.

If voters approve the home rule option, the city estimates it would be allowed to spend the following amounts in the next four years: $20,524,880 in 2015-2016, $20,868,492 in 2016-2017, $21,220,580 in 2017-2018, and $21,581,371 in 2018-2019.

If voters do not approve the home rule option, the city will have to follow state-imposed expenditure limits. This would restrict spending to about $10,928,072 in 2015-2016, $11,127,617 in 2016-2017, $11,254,817 in 2017-2018, and $11,136,671 in 2018-2019.

"The expenditure limitation approval is basically just to say this is what it costs to run our government in these years," Buonocore explained. "The limitations...(are) just a calculation. It has nothing to do with reality. It's like, we can't run our city on that."

In order to vote in the primary election, people must be registered with Coconino County by July 28. More information about the election is available from the city at (928) 635-4451.

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