The new year brings hopes, challenges and priorities. Some cities are working on major projects, but everyone is trying to make do with the budgets and funding they have to work with.
Economic development tops the list of priorities for most cities. Mike Palm, the mayor of Baraboo, Wis., population 12,048, said his top three priorities for 2014 are to maintain the city’s financial stability; implement a major road reconstruction project; and bring new business into a redeveloped area along the Baraboo River.
“We intend to continue to follow a fiscally conservative direction to maintain our cash reserves and control expenses for services,” he said. “The South Boulevard road construction has been engineered and funding is in place. Now it’s up to us to work with the public for a smooth implementation of the work, and minimize the hardship on local citizens.”
“The third project involves marketing land that we have available through brownfield clean-up projects,” he added. “The land is open and available for development along a picturesque part of the river adjacent to our downtown area.”
As do officials in many cities, Palm faces increasing expenses because of inflation and a rather flat economy.
“Our department directors work together to find ways of doing the job more efficiently, whenever possible. We don’t try to overextend ourselves with debt, and we have developed long-range capital programs to help out major expenses that fit within
Eric Hansen’s top priorities are much the same. As city manager for Mason, Ohio, population 31,091, he plans to continue to focus on economic development and job growth.
“Job growth is the bedrock of the city’s financial health and supports the services we provide to residents and businesses. The city’s recent success in the bio-health business sector aligns well with maintaining the financial health of major city cost centers, such as the community center and golf course,” Hansen said.
As part of business growth efforts, Mason will continue to align its community center, golf course and community wellness programs with its business recruitment efforts. “Establishing partnerships that help maintain service quality will help us control expenses and resources,” he said.
The city has also been creative in developing incentive packages for businesses that include access to city wellness amenities, such as a community center, golf course and wellness programs.
“This helps the companies minimize employee health care costs while helping the city build traffic and business at these venues. I expect this creativity will continue to develop.”
Hansen is working with the county, private developers and business interests on a transportation improvement district. The project will carefully move forward a major interchange improvement that will accelerate and intensify job creation opportunities.
Mason City Council has a history of budgeting conservatively. This strategy was combined with a focus on economic development; strong efforts by staff to conserve resources, stretch dollars, and form partnerships to maximize city resources; and postponing non-critical maintenance, vehicle replacements, and projects. As a result, the city maintained services in the face of declining revenues due to the economy and reduced funding by the state.
“I expect council to maintain these strategies as necessary to avoid any shortfalls as we complete the 2014 budget,” Hansen said.
Property taxes in Mason will also decrease. In 2012 voters approved a unique safety services funding mechanism that allows city council to adjust a portion of the income tax rate and the millage rate for that purpose each year, depending on anticipated expenses and expected revenue from other sources.
This year the city received funding from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant for firefighters’ salaries. The city council passed those savings on to property owners by reducing the 2013 property tax rate.