BISBEE — The Bisbee City Council hammered out the new $23,524,485 budget for the 2021–22 fiscal year over three nights of deliberation which started on April 26.
The General Fund includes departments that rely on tax dollars to fund a number of city services, such as the police and fire departments, public works, administrative staff, building inspector and more, City Manager Steve Pauken explained during the work sessions. The General Fund budget was set and once the tentative budget is approved at the Tuesday meeting, the city will be locked into the expenditure limit of $8,231,465.
About 54 percent of the budget is revenue that comes from property tax, sales tax, state shared tax and vehicle licenses fees. For the next budget year, Pauken estimated the city would receive $3,827,985 from those sources.
Other sources of funding comes from fees, permits, fines, licenses, contributions and transfers.
A boost to the city’s economy may be provided by the Green Pharmacy, which sells medical and recreational marijuana, added Pauken.
Of that $8 million expenditure limit, public safety accounts for two-thirds of it. For the police department and its 15 officers and staff, the budget is set at $2,612,652, which includes $706,595 for contributions to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. The fire department, with 21 firefighters, is slightly higher at $2,776,687 with $803,499 for PSPRS.
“Each year PSPRS grows larger and larger,” said Pauken. “This is a problem that has to be fixed. The city owes $22 million. We’re handling this like we’re paying on a credit card making the minimum payment over 30 years.”
Pauken and City Attorney Joe Estes suggested a municipal bond plan to reduce the amount the city has to pay annually and cover that $22 million faster to save money in the long run. Bonds are attractive right now as interest rates are low.
Fire Chief George Castillo and Police Chief Albert Echave are having problems attracting and retaining employees as other employers in the county pay more. To counter that, small raises were worked into the budget.
Castillo asked for a ladder truck, which would aid in structure fires with multi-level buildings.
All city employees will receive small raises this year to bring some employees up to minimum wage, according to Finance Director Keri Bagley.
Funding of $625,000 from the Arizona CARES Act will help balance the budget, but even so, $393,205 from reserves will be needed to balance the budget.
Pauken recommended the city needs to have a balanced budget without the CARES money since the program will be eliminated.
Mayor Ken Budge pointed out the last go-around with CARES Act money, Gov. Doug Ducey held some back for the state.
“We need to be careful with that,” Budge added.
Pauken suggested hiring a certified planner to help with the many projects the city is working on like the Workforce Affordable Housing Initiative, the acquisition of the Hillcrest Apartments, establishing a historic district in Warren and working with the Design Review Board and Planning and Zoning Commission. Currently the city contracts with the county to review design plans. He estimated the salary range for such a position to be $50,000 a year plus employee-related expenses.
Councilmembers Anna Cline and Frank Davis thought it was a good idea. Budge said it would be good to have someone who could support the city’s building inspector. The position was added to the budget.
Pauken also recommended the council reconsider the vehicle lease agreement with Enterprise Leasing.
“I have issues with the contract,” he said. “We don’t use up our vehicles the way big cities do. It’s not the most economical way to run a city.”
He questioned the policy of allowing employees to gas up at certain stations as the city is exempt from the 18 cent Arizona tax and 20 cent federal tax. He said he would look into the cost of fixing the fuel tank at the city garage.
The Department of Corrections has indicated the city can hire inmates for grounds work and Pauken has planned on the Evergreen Cemetery cleanup and roadside weeding.
As for ways to boost revenues, there was some discussion about reinstating a fee for the commercial fire inspections based on square footage rather than a flat fee and offering transport ambulance service to Tucson.
The public pool in Higgins Park will be open this year once the pool deck is repaired. Residents can also look forward to the traditional July 4 festivities and fireworks and the annual Holiday of Lights at Thanksgiving.
The Streets and Infrastructure 1-cent tax covers paving, repairs and maintenance of city roads and infrastructure like the retaining walls. This year the city is budgeting $800,000 from the tax. The Highway User Revenue Fund collected by the state will add another $470,644. With other fees, the budget will total $1,770,966.
Sanitation is expected to bring in a total of $1,219,000 with the user fees and recycling fees and recycling sales.
The Wastewater Fund is set at $3,396,036 with user fees accounting for most of the revenue at $2,032,000 and $400,000 for funds from the city sales tax.
Transient Bed Tax and a number of grants make up the rest of the budget.
The entire budget can be viewed on the city’s website: https://www.bisbeeaz.gov/agendacenter.