Escanaba starts city budget process

Jenny Lancour | Daily Press Escanaba City Manager Patrick Jordan listens as city department heads present their 2018-2019 budget needs and challenges during a work session with council members at city hall on Wednesday.

ESCANABA — More staff, road maintenance, building repairs, technology upgrades, and utility studies were among 2018-2019 budget needs expressed by Escanaba’s department heads during a work session with council members and the city manager at city hall Wednesday.

“It was a good kick-off meeting on the budget,” commented City Manager Patrick Jordan following Wednesday’s discussion of each department’s general financial needs and challenges in the upcoming fiscal year.

Though Jordan has fiscal management experience from past employment, the city’s 2018-2019 budget is the first for him to work on in his new job as Escanaba city manager. Jordan was hired last summer to replace Jim O’Toole, who retired after working 29 years for the city.

Following Wednesday’s session, Jordan commented the group discussion went well, noting he is lucky to be working with very professional individuals who are focused on the overall needs of the city.

“The health, safety and welfare of our residents are our priority,” said Jordan, anticipating the upcoming operating budget to remain fairly flat with no large changes in revenues and expenditures compared to the current $31 million budget.

City Controller Melissa Becotte said she doesn’t expect state revenue sharing to be much different from the past few years.

“It’s just not really increasing,” Becotte said, adding, “I’m not expecting a lot of change in revenue sharing.”

Though it’s too early to know the amount of state funds the city will receive, Jordan said projected slight increases in revenue — such as growth in property values — will be counteracted by additional expenditures — such as increasing legal fees in the ongoing “dark store” tax tribunal battle with Menards.

Notable budget requests from department heads Wednesday included engineer plans for wastewater plant improvements, an additional police officer, a full-time community development/planning and zoning secretary, a solar energy garden, library and election technology upgrades, and repairs to the civic center basement due to flooding.

The city also continues to search for a level four assessor to hire, said Jordan.

In addition to requesting city funds pay for these and other needs, the department heads also mentioned several grants which will be sought this year to help pay for road repairs, a dock replacement, downtown facade projects, new firefighting gear, tennis court reconstruction, and bike path connections.

Wednesday’s discussion also included long-term budget challenges including increasing pension costs, aging public works vehicles and police cars, and a high turnover in police personnel. Nine retirements are expected at Escanaba Public Safety within the next 10 years.

Regarding utilities, a 1.75 percent electric rate hike, as announced last year, will take effect in 2018-2019 with additional yearly rate increases to follow as previously planned. Rate studies were recommended for electric, water and wastewater.

It is unknown at this time if there will be rate increases for water or wastewater services in Escanaba for the upcoming fiscal year. The water department is also looking into the future to charge a flat rate for water use rather than the current declining rate.

Council budget concerns included the need for utility infrastructure improvements, additional road maintenance, and a more user-friendly city website. Discussion also focused on preventing any future temporary discharge of partially-treated wastewater into Little Bay de Noc, which the city was forced to do because of high water levels caused by large rainfall amounts last June.

Mayor Marc Tall also suggested the city consider a millage request for road improvements.

Hearings will be scheduled during upcoming council meetings to receive public input on the 2018-2019 budget. The first is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 18 at city hall.

Department operating budgets are to be submitted to the city controller by Jan. 19 with a first draft of the proposed finances expected to be compiled for the city manager by Feb. 12. Council is scheduled to receive a tentative copy of the city budget on March 23.

Budget work sessions between council members and individual department heads will take place April 9 and 10 and are open to the public. If needed, April 11 is also scheduled for budget work sessions. Additional public hearings will take place prior to the adoption of the city budget on May 17.