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Government: City, county budgets snowed under

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The city of Springfield and Greene County continue to wrangle with budget constraints, even though the city’s February sales tax figures showed a modest 1.4 percent increase compared to February 2009. That’s the first sales tax revenue increase in six months, and revenue is still down overall, according to Mary Mannix Decker, director of finance for the city of Springfield.

Decker said sales tax revenues stand at $23.3 million for the first eight months of the city’s fiscal 2010, down from $25.3 million for the same period in 2009.

Pension fixes
As in 2009, the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund, underfunded by nearly $200 million, continues to be a concern, but a 3/4-cent sales tax approved by voters in November has helped alleviate the pressure.

The city has decreased its contributions to 35 percent of payroll from 53 percent, and back-tax settlements from telephone companies such as AT&T in the past year have added nearly $25 million to the fund’s capital. Decker said this will help the financial condition of the plan but not directly affect the city’s budget.

The city also has auctioned off six batches of surplus property, with revenues first reimbursing the funds used to buy the land and net revenues being used to further bolster the pension fund.

Six properties have sold to date, bringing in total revenues of $42,770. Bids will be accepted through March 11 on the latest round of surplus properties put on the block.

“On the other side of the budget, what we’re trying to do in order not to draw on reserves is to make sure that we are matching our expenditures with our revenues,” Decker said. “As we’ve seen our revenues decline throughout the fiscal year, we have adjusted our budget each quarter to reflect that decline in revenues, keeping that budget in balance.”

Among the adjustments, the city continues to operate under a hiring freeze that has been in place since January 2009. The freeze has resulted in 127 vacant positions, approximately 15 percent of the city work force.

Although the freeze is not being lifted, Decker said the city will open a Police and Fire academy in June for 30 police officers and 10 firefighters. Other positions may be unfrozen on a case-by-case basis.

Although Decker said it was too early to say what cuts might be undertaken in the March budget revision, she said that the city projected to end the fiscal year between 5 percent and 7 percent below budget.

The budget issues won’t affect the city’s capital improvement projects, including one that recently broke ground at the city’s southwest treatment plant.

“At this point, with our N-cent program and our 1/8-cent program, those projects are on target, Decker said. “The areas where we’ve actually cut our budget is the general fund, which generally does not have capital projects included in that budget.”

County concerns
Greene County has experienced a similar revenue ebb and flow.

At the county level, sales tax revenues were up 3.9 percent in December compared to the same month in 2008, but they’re down $2 million from 2009 totals, according to Greene County Director of Administration Jeff Reinold.  

“We did balance the budget; we’ve made very difficult choices through the budget cycle,” he said, noting that the county now has 50 job vacancies. “We’re not rehiring positions as they become vacant unless the office just can’t operate without that position.”

Positions that are rehired are usually law enforcement and public safety, Reinold said.

The two largest areas of concern for Greene County this year continue to be the criminal justice system and the county water supply.

For the last several years, the state has not been able to provide sufficient funding to pay for county services, such as the housing of state prisoners. But Greene County Presiding Commissioner Dave Coonrod said that the state’s own budget problems made relief unlikely.

“We just hope we can hold the line,” he said.

Last year, amid concerns about the possible depletion of the water supply used by Greene County and the surrounding areas, the county commissioned a survey by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers. Coonrod said that the final results from the survey are expected later this year.

“The report will guide not Greene County so much as it will City Utilities to determine whether or not they would be willing to work out an arrangement to provide water services to other area communities,” he said.

Greene County has a number of capital improvement projects planned for 2010, funded through 911 and non-tax-increase bond issues. These include a number of highway bridge projects, a $3 million morgue and the new Public Safety Collaboration Center near the intersection of North Campbell and Nichols Street.

Coonrod said that the center is expected to be complete by 2011 at a cost of about $18 million, and it will put Springfield and Greene County in position to respond to an expected New Madrid earthquake. While opinions differ on when the quake might hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had an initiative under way to prepare for such a catastrophe back in 2008. Local preparedeness is important, given that Springfield and Greene County have been designated by the state and FEMA as the distribution center for aid and a receiving center for injured people and refugees.

“What we’ve been told by everybody who understands that sort of thing (is that) it’s not a question of if it will happen but when,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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