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Council members criticize city debt-loadTell North Platte what you think

At a city budget work session Tuesday, Councilman Brook Baker asked why some preliminary estimates indicate the city property tax call could go up by 9.5 percent.

City Administrator Jim Hawks said that the city’s debt service is going up due to increases in bonds for projects in the city.

Baker raised the question as the North Platte City Council continued hashing out the proposed 2013-14 city budget.

Councilman Jim Carman said the city needs to reduce its debt.

“We need to quit borrowing money we don’t have,” Carman said. “Every time we get to where we can see light at the end of our debt, we get foxy and think we can build something else.”

Carman said the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor’s Center is an example of something the city overbuilt.

In reality, the $26.6 million city budget contains a 4-percent increase from city property taxes, according to documents prepared for the council and the news media.

Utility promotions

Baker and Councilman Tim Barrett both asked about a budget item listed as advertising and promotions in the Municipal Light and Water budget. The sum amounts to $133,750.

Baker and Barrett wanted to know why promotions come out of the light and water budget.

“That is how it has been done for a number of years.” Hawks said.

When asked why the amounts show up twice in the budget documents, Hawks said one of the pages is only for informational purposes for the council – the page that shows where the promotions money goes -- and does not represent a second set of expenses.

According to budget documents, municipal light and water “promotions” money goes to:

• Lincoln County Development Corporation -- $11,250.

• Nebraskaland Days -- $11,250.

• North Platte Chamber and DevCo -- $100,000.

• Rail Fest -- $11,250.

Carryover funds

Baker also asked about unused emergency funds that are reserved for disasters, especially in such departments as streets and utilities, as well as regular surpluses at the end of a budget year.

Hawks said emergency funds are carried into the next fiscal year and are startup funds. The carryover emergency funds become emergency funds for the new fiscal year.

Hawks also said ordinary carryover surpluses are carried over as cash balances in the general fund. Those too are set in the budget from the beginning and help keep the new budget lower. The surpluses reduce how much some departments request for the new fiscal year.

Barrett, Baker and Carman are taking a conservative stance toward the budget, to keep expenses low. They are also asking a lot of questions to make the budget more transparent to the public.

Baker especially is concerned about items that seem excessive or repetitive to him and is on a learning curve to understanding it.

“I know I am new to a lot of this and a lot of people say I don’t know much,” he said at one point, but he kept asking questions.

Barrett is combing the budget too. He told the Bulletin a few days before the meeting that he is “really teed off about this budget.”

Hawks said the proposed budget is a good one.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job on this budget by keeping it (total expenses) at only a 1.15 percent increase over last year,” Hawks said.

Public hearing

As required by law, a public meeting on the budget will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the council chambers at City Hall. Anyone with questions or comments is welcome to speak.

A special council meeting is planned at 6 p.m. on Sept. 5 to approve the budget.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 8/13/2013
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