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Milton to host first of three public forums on city budget

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
May 17, 2011
— Got an opinion on a city project?

How about a list of priorities for city services?


Or do you just want to give some advice on how the city can save money?


You’ve got your chance tonight at a public forum on the city of Milton’s budget. If you can’t make it tonight, you get two more chances later this year.


City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the city is inviting residents to three forums this year to learn about the city’s financial condition and its emerging spending priorities and to share their own ideas as the city crafts its 2012 budget.


He said the forums are intended to help the public to get involved in city budget plans at a time when state budget cuts and pending state legislation spell fiscal uncertainty for municipalities statewide.


“What we’re trying to do first and foremost is to communicate what’s known,” Schuetz said.


Of course, that’s all likely to change later this year as the city learns what revenues will be coming from the state. Hence, the three forums: one tonight; another in July, when the state budget could firm up; and a third in September, when the city council will begin galvanizing the budget.


For now, here’s a look at current budget figures and spending priorities—or, as Schuetz puts it, “what’s known”:


Overall, the city estimates it will see $115,000 in cuts to state revenues in 2012, according to a budget overview released by the city last week.


Those cuts, along with $122,000 in new debt tied to general purpose bonds the city floated this spring for a new public works facility and other possible city projects, mean the city could face a budget gap of $278,000, according to city estimates.


Capital expenses, projects and staffing increases that the city identifies as priorities include:


--Improvements to the Goodrich Park area in the city’s east side business district.


-- Fire department improvements.


-- A new fire department ladder truck. A pay schedule hasn’t been authorized, but it could add at least $325,000 in debt service that could be spread over the next five years.


-- Adding another fulltime police officer. The cost: $23,000.


Major wild cards for expenses, the city reports, are increases in fuel prices and health insurance.


Tonight, Schuetz will detail a list of $216,000 in budget cuts and savings proposed by city staff, which could include:


-- $6,900 in cuts to police capital purchases.


-- Eliminating the city’s buyout plan for health insurance and some funding for post-employment benefits—moves that would save a combined $52,000.


-- $46,000 in cuts to capital expenses through delays in equipment purchases.


-- $51,000 in savings through higher benefits contributions for union and nonunion employees.


Schuetz said city staff will compile and organize citizen comments gathered Tuesday and at each of the budget forums. They’ll be used to form a survey on what services and projects residents consider as top priorities and will also factor into the council’s strategic plan, Schuetz said.


So what if nobody shows up tonight?


“I won’t be dejected,” Schuetz said. “The fact is that we’re going to continue to maintain outreach to our community.”


On the other hand, Schuetz said, if 100 people show up, it’s all the better.


“It’ll only help the city to provide the council with valuable information from our citizens,” he said.



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