Fairhope mayor proposes FY 2018 budget

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 10/4/17

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson presented her proposal for the city’s 2018 fiscal year budget last week, saying the focus for the coming year’s budget would be on revenue opportunities, …

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Fairhope mayor proposes FY 2018 budget

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Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson presented her proposal for the city’s 2018 fiscal year budget last week, saying the focus for the coming year’s budget would be on revenue opportunities, infrastructure and personnel needs for the city.

“For 2017’s budget, the focus was cutting wasteful spending and separating the financials for the City and Utilities,” Wilson wrote on her blog. “The result has already demonstrated a path for a more financially responsible government. We exceeded revenue goals and were under budget on expenses which not only saved millions of dollars over previous years, but greatly reduced the city’s reliance on our utility profits.”

Wilson’s figures showed a decline in utility transfers to the city over the past years, from $2.95 million in 2016 to $2.88 million in 2017.

Wilson said she wanted to make sure the city was only transferring the exact amount needed by the city to help cover costs.

“We shouldn’t transfer more into the city to show a surplus,” Wilson said. “We should only transfer over exactly what we need.”

Wilson’s figures showed a $6.6 million deficit in 2016, but a $1 million surplus for 2017, which raised concerns for Council President Jack Burrell.

“I’m a little bit sensitive when you see that slide, there are a lot of people who think we operated in debt,” Burrell said. “We not only had a balanced budget, we actually paid off several millions of debt each year. This is clerical.”

Wilson said the data was aligned to show the impact made by the transfers from utilities.

Wilson is projecting a net operating income of more than $11 million for the utilities in FY 2018.

“Because less is being transferred out, Utilities’ profits have increased,” Wilson wrote. “With 2018 projected profits, we can start immediately on upgrading the urgent needs in the sewer department.”

Wilson also showed figures outlining a 3.9 percent decrease in city employees between 2010 and 2017, while the city’s population grew by 26.6 percent during the same time period.

“The shortage has been a long-term problem but has been particularly exasperating now due to rapid growth,” Wilson wrote. “We must fill in the holes to bring better services, become more efficient (and) capitalize on revenue opportunities and greatly reduce overtime.”

Wilson’s budget also included a 2 percent funding for merit-based salary increases for city employees rather than the city’s usual cost of living raises.

Wilson also made several suggestions for cost cutting, including retaining an in-house full-time city attorney, internal safety training to reduce workman’s comp claims and surplusing unneeded city vehicles.

Wilson also proposed rate and fee adjustments for city services, especially to those customers not actually living within the city’s limits.

“We want to do these keeping in mind that we obviously need it to sustain the city,” Wilson said. “We also want to make sure when we make fee adjustments that we benefit people who live inside the city. The contribution we need is from outside the city … We want to make those benefits great (for people within the city) because by doing that, we make it more desirable for people to come in.”

Burrell and other council members said they would study the mayor’s proposal and have questions at the council’s next work session.

“I’m sure there will be changes to the budget,” Burrell said. “We want to debate them, and hopefully get them passed soon.”

The council unanimously voted to extend the city’s current budget until November to give city leaders time to negotiate and pass the FY 2018 budget.