Dover City Council members expressed concerns about state funding and city service cuts as well as the possibility of increasing fees or taxes, as the first round of the fiscal year 2009 budget hearings wrapped up last week.

    Dover City Council members expressed concerns about state funding and city service cuts as well as the possibility of increasing fees or taxes, as the first round of the fiscal year 2009 budget hearings wrapped up last week.
The hearings will reconvene at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 2, in order to continue to look at adopting a final budget before the fiscal year begins July 1.
Councilman Timothy Slavin said when looking at the budget they need to really keep an eye on this year and future years. City officials undertook a series of one-time fixes during a lean budget year and they’ll have to fill those holes in later budgets, he noted.
  City services such as street and sidewalk repair, equipment replacement and maintenance on existing infrastructure have been cut back, he pointed out.
   “If we move forward with the budget as it’s been presented, we’re agreeing as a council to let certain services erode,” he said.
Slavin also expressed concerns about being prepared for state funding cuts, which could last more than one year. He said the proposed budget is built on the assumption the state funding will be the same as it was in fiscal 2008, which looks for more than $4 million for various operating programs and $5 million in capital money for a new public library.
   “That’s an awful big number to be uncertain of,” he said.

Finding more
  In addition to looking at cuts and funding shortages, city officials and council members discussed the possibility of permit and business license fee increases as well as a property tax increase. City Manager Tony DePrima provided a prioritized list of items that he would like to add back into the budget if more revenue was raised. That list included more money for police vehicles, the street program and fire safety equipment, as well hiring another librarian and installing global positioning equipment on city vehicles.
  City officials did find more than $106,354 extra after realizing the temporary help for the planning department was over budgeted. They also found expenses that had been left out or reduced in the proposed budget and therefore needed to increase.
  Councilman Reuben Salters said permit fees should go up, although Councilman Thomas Leary disagreed saying that in the current business climate, raising those fees would give him “a lot of heartburn.”
    Salters was the only council member who openly advocated at least a one-cent tax increase. He said with wages and city expenses continuing to rise, he would like to see the city get on a tax increase schedule to see if they can catch up. The last time the city raised taxes was in 2004.
    “We already realize it takes money to run the city and we don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “We’ve got things to do and the longer we delay it, it will put us further and further behind.”

Trimming the fat
    However, both Councilman William McGlumphy and Councilwoman Beverly Williams disagreed with Salter’s suggestion that the city has nowhere else to turn.
    At the May 21 hearing, McGlumphy pointed to several items he called the “fat lines in any budget” that could be cut down, such as overtime, subscriptions and dues, training, consulting, legal and community relations. Totaling approximately $5 million, he said perhaps $1 million could be squeezed out of that.
    The following evening, DePrima and other city officials went over those specific items in detail to help council members see if additional money could be cut out. Many of the items such as police overtime and required training would be difficult to pare down, DePrima said.
   Williams stated flatly she still saw the budget as padded and fluffy and would not vote for a tax increase until 8 to 10% of the proposed budget was cut. She also mentioned redirecting the city’s Quality of Life officers to different duties and giving the city’s planning office more money to direct economic development, rather than create a separate division.

    Councilman Eugene Ruane also had concerns about the proposed economic development division. He said somehow it got squeezed into the budget and made the cut when so many other areas didn’t.

Electric, salaries

    In addition to council’s general concerns, the May 21 budget hearing included discussions on the electric fund’s budget, which is $110 million of the $158 million total. Some of the capital spending and administrative costs decreased, but salaries and benefits and the cost of wholesale power went up.
   The cost of power has gone up enough that council members talked about electric rate increases at the May 27 utility meeting. The meeting was held after the Post’s deadline.
   Another issue that came up throughout the hearings was the city’s pay for performance program and salary increases.
   “I believe this particular plan is too costly to the people of Dover,” McGlumphy said. He also passed out information about 20 salary positions that he felt had been increased excessively.
   The city has been working at reviewing the pay for performance program and will continue to discuss it over the next few months.