“Cities have been under so much economic strain and pressure that we had to adapt. Everything from the erosion of the tax base to the state tax decrease, it’s all dwindled down, and we have to really think about how we’re going to administer services,” Dean Van Dress, city council member, explained.
Staffers in each department looked at projected spending and possible needs. They took future foreseen purchases, potential projects, revenues, grant funding and operating expenses and put them into a six-year comprehensive plan that accounted for inflation rates and interest. Kleem admitted he spent more than a few weekend hours working on the project as did other city officials.
Finance Director Dana Kavander took the information from all departments and sorted it into different funding sources. She determined virtually all spending by the city for the next six years would total about $33 million.
The project took under four months to complete.
“The hardest part I had to do was determine how we’re going to pay for all of these projects,” Kavander said. “It’s one thing to list out all the capital improvements you want to do, but you’re also looking at your debt.”
Nearly 70 percent of Berea’s expenditures stemmed from infrastructure. The list of purchases alone had around 175 items on it. Over the course of six years additional purchases may be added, but they will be purchases department heads predicted.
The six-year capital projects plan forced department heads to think into the future and also showed city officials what department heads expected to happen.
“All the things that maybe we would have just waited to break down or to malfunction, we’re a little bit more prepared knowing the life expectancies of,” Kleem said.
Berea will actually reduce its overall debt in the process. According to Van Dress, the city’s debt may be reduced by $700,000 through 2018. The plan will renew, so there’s always a six-year schedule.
Mayor Kleem added that the plan will be available on the town’s website for municipal use and public access, which will help put the budget into perspective for residents.
“We have a lake with no outdoor bathroom, so we’re going to install one. That could be $100,000. You’ll hear people say ‘Why would spend $100,000 on a bathroom when my streets are falling apart?’” But when potential remodeling costs for some streets near $7 million, “it puts it into perspective. You can now see that the $100,000 isn’t as significant as it seemed before. I think a lot of times, we as public officials forget that the public doesn’t know about the costs of things. They don’t know the scope or size of our budget.”
Other officials describe the plan as a roadmap for the future of the city.
“If, for some reason, one of us wasn’t re-elected, this would help guide the city. I think this is the responsible thing to do,” Van Dress said.
The mayor reiterated that the plan is not set in stone. Additional emergency projects may be added, projects on the list may be moved and costs for projects may be inaccurate in the future. The plan is a working model with changes and additions constantly being implemented.