St. George city budget comes into clearer focus; public meetings on the horizon

Stock image | Photo by BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After going through a budgeting process city officials recently equated to essentially starting all over in the midst of a pandemic, the city of St. George is moving closer to adopting its 2020-21 fiscal year budget as the first public meeting to discuss the budget draws near.

St. George’s budget and financial planning manager, Deanna Brklacich, said when deciphering an annual budget it’s “really cool” for “nerdy” accountants, but there are realities that have to be considered when digging into the specifics of each department’s bottom line.

Public safety budget items are one primary focus of city officials and an area where increases are currently being requested.

With a total budget of $7 million for the St. George Fire Department, slightly more than $32,000 has been requested for equipment and renovations for full-time staff at Fire Station 6 located at 184 N. 2450 East.

Brklacich said multiple requests have also been made to increase the St. George Police Department’s budget by $345,000 to pay for replacement officers because of unanticipated retirements.

A St. George Police vehicle on the scene of an accident on Friday, April 17, 2020 in St. George, Utah. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Other police expenditures include $40,000 for independent Wi-Fi that will be used for officer communications. Currently, officers have used their personal cellphones as mobile hotspots to allow connectivity.

 

The city has nearly a $303 million tentative budget for 2020-21, with more than $70 million in its general fund account. This represents a $50 million decrease – or a 14.2% drop – from the current year budget.

Although there was a decrease in the general funds, a large portion of the decrease came from the completion of major capital projects, including the completed $26 million airport runway reconstruction.

The decrease also comes from the cancellation of the City Hall and police department building expansion projects. Totaling in excess of $15 million, the previously approved projects included the four-phased construction of a parking garage and expansion to city facilities.

After COVID-19 hit the city put a halt on the projects; however, the city is still incurring costs associated with design, engineering and architectural fees through the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year.

St. George City Hall, St. George, Utah, June 20, 2019 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“We are re-budgeting the City Hall expansion for $500,000 (and) the police building expansion project for $100,000,” Brklacich said, adding that they are also reducing the parking structure budget for 2020-21 from $1.245 million to $100,000.

Regarding revenue, before COVID-19, the city was experiencing a strong increase in sales tax revenue of approximately 7.5%; however, since the pandemic struck, it has experienced a loss of about $388,000 per month, which decreased the estimate for the fiscal year 2021 by approximately 30% – a decrease of more than $4.6 million.

One bright spot to the 2020-21 budget is the anticipated revenues of $68,750 next fiscal year offsetting the increase in expenditures of $61,000 because of growing participation at city tennis and pickleball courts.

Still, there are other financial considerations, city officials said.

The city is increasing its general fund by $102,100, which will allow employees to convert accrued sick leave to a cash payout. The city has already set aside $432,000 for the payout. The increase in the general fund will be subtracted from the current budget placeholder.

Another increase in the budget is $306,500 for the replacement of the roof at the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center. The money will come out of the fund balance in the city’s capital projects account and will have no impact on the general fund.

“At the first of the year, we underestimated the budget,” Brklacich said. “When the bids went out and the designs were complete, the actually cost came in at (nearly) $1.4 million. This project is currently underway.”

In addition, the 2020-21 budget includes $160,000 for leases already contracted for temporary office space while the expansion projects were completed.

The budget proposal will now undergo public scrutiny, with two open meetings scheduled for June 4 and June 18. By state law, the budget must be officially adopted by June 30.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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