Dover's City Council members discussed the FY 2014-2015 budget Monday night.
Dover’s City Council got some sobering, but not unexpected news during their budget workshop Monday night: the city must find a way to overcome a projected $3.1 million general fund deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
The three-hour meeting adjourned just before 9 p.m. with no decisions made − Council President David L. Bonar saying the workshop was for informational purposes only − but the nine council members went away knowing some tough decisions lie ahead.
With excerpts from the budget document taped to the walls and projected on a viewscreen for all to examine, City Manager Scott Koenig opened the meeting by saying it was an opportunity for council members to see where the spending plan stands, approximately two months before it must be approved.
“This is not a final document,” Koenig said. “This is a working document we wanted to present to you to identify issues we’ve been working on.”
City Controller/Treasurer Donna Mitchell pegged projected FY 2014-2015 revenues for the general fund − the pot of money used to pay normal operating expenses, including payroll − at $36.59 million, approximately $316,000 more than FY 2013-2014.
However, projected expenses have been pegged at $39.69 million, or $3.1 million more than the city expects in revenue.
The preliminary budget is $2.86 million more than what was projected in last year’s FY 2013-2014 spending plan.
Overall, the projected FY 2014-2015 budget calls for 7.8 percent more spending for city departments than the prior plan but also includes an 8.2 percent drop in costs of other expenditures, including debt service and the street light fund.
Income from property taxes, the city’s major source of revenue, is expected to be approximately $11.04 million, or $70,800 less than last year. In addition, there is a project 16.4 percent drop in transfer taxes, both reflecting a soft construction market.
Council members touched on a number of subjects, including the possibility of increasing property taxes and water/wastewater fees, the need to spend $130,000 for a property value reassessment, replacing fire equipment and a projected outlay of $239,500 in contributions to support Kent County Tourism, the African-American Festival, the Fourth of July celebration and the Downtown Dover Partnership.
Not included in the budget calculations were requests for a city elevator maintenance contract, an HVAC contract for the city library, funding for a storm water project and eight new personnel positions.
Those include an additional water treatment plant operator, who will be needed to support round-the-clock operations when the Calpine energy plant goes into operation, an assistant city manager and three new civilian positions in the police department.
Two of those positions, which would be filled by retired police officers, would be in the department’s sex offender registry enforcement unit, which would free two active police officers to return to other duties.
Although the meeting was advertised in advance and open to the public, only one Dover resident, U.S. Navy veteran Jim Long, was in attendance to watch the proceedings.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘depressing,’” Long said of the city’s finances.
Despite that analysis, Long also felt the explanations offered and the questions asked by council members showed they grasp the severity of the city’s budget problems.
“I feel much better about the competency of city government,” he said.
With formal budget hearing set to begin in May − council must approve a final spending package before June 1, the start of the new fiscal year − Mitchell said council members have several weeks to review the budget, talk with department managers about their expenses, and make other suggestions about how to decrease spending or increase revenue.
“We knew it would be bad, so we were trying to give them a preview,” she said.
“We have time,” Mitchell added. “If council sees things they like or dislike, the time to address it is now.”