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  • Kevin Elliott

Rochester Council confused by new budget

Rochester City Council members on Monday, April 23, expressed confusion and frustration about a proposed $38 million budget for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts on July 1 and runs through June 30 each year.

Rochester city councilwoman Ann Peterson took issue with several items in the proposed budget, including a proposed 15-percent pay raise for the city's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) director Kristi Trevarrow, and the inability to make clear sense of totals as presented.

"When you are starting to break down a budget and looking at each line item and you really can't add up what total costs are unless you start looking at it, it becomes very clear that we're not transparent," Peterson said. "Without being transparent, I can't make a good decision moving forward with these items."

Rochester Mayor Pro Tem Kim Russell also said she had difficulty making sense of the figures as presented.

"There are some things I would like some clarity on in the budget," she said. "This does fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers. We have increased revenues of about 20-ish percent, and we have about $5,000 left to go back into the general fund."

Russell said the way the budget was presented makes it difficult to determine where incomes and expenditures balanced out in various funds. She also requested the budget include proposed and actual budget amounts from previous years, as well as changes represented by percentages.

That sentiment was echoed by councilwoman Nancy Salvia, who said she also spent several hours over the weekend analyzing the proposed budget and was left with many questions.

"I'm also having a hard time with the budget process," she said, asking about staffing figures presented in the budget. "I am a business person and a numbers person, but I feel like we are being given this and being told, 'OK, just go ahead and approve it. You have to, it's in the charter.'"

Under the current budget schedule, the city is expected to have a final budget prepared and published by Friday, May 4, with a full presentation and adoption by Monday, May 14.

Wing said this year's budget process was more challenging than in years past as the city has recently transitioned to new financial software, has new staff, and two new council members. He said staff and council have been working on the city's budget over the past six months, concluding discussions on April 9. The proposed budget was completed and presented to council on Friday, April 20.

Items approved by council included $5,295 for a two-percent increase for paid on-call firefighter pay; about $10,000 to fund a five-year contract to provide fiber-optic cable services to city hall; about $22,100 to replace police patrol vests; $22,400 for replacement of fire station bay doors on the south side of the fire department; about $25,000 for non-union wage adjustments; $20,000 in audio/video equipment for city hall; about $500,000 in transfers from the general fund to the street and road repair funds for repairs and improvements.

While overall revenues are expected to increase by about 20 percent, he said expenditures are proposed to increase from nearly $27 million to about $38 million. Those increases include a 623-percent increase in water and sewer loans for planned projects, or from about $1.2 million to $8.5 million.

Wing said the city's general fund expenditures are expected to be about $13.6 million, with a slight surplus of about $5,000. The overall fund balance is projected to be about $7.2 million, or about 53.2 percent of annual general fund expenditures.

Councilman Ben Giovanelli, who works as a certified public accountant, said the city's new software system is a vast improvement over the past system, but presented some issues in terms of adjustments, and that some confusion appears to have been from that transition. Still, he said he believes the council should return to a process that includes more budget workshops where each department head presents their proposed budget to council.

Council ended the discussion without taking any formal action. The budget will be revisited at council's May 4 meeting.

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