Esky takes look at budget needs

ESCANABA — The Escanaba City Council and the department heads responsible for day to day operations in the city met informally Wednesday morning to discuss their priorities and budget needs for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Few hard numbers were discussed at the meeting. Many department heads reported on upcoming projects that have not been put out to bid or are subject to grant applications that are still under review, and the city still has a shaky grasp on what revenue will look like in the coming year.

One unknown is how the state will distribute shared revenue to municipalities across the state. The state typically announces how funding will be distributed the first week of February.

“I certainly don’t anticipate any large increases,” said City Controller Melissa Becotte. “Hopefully a small increase — worst case I’m expecting it to stay flat to what it is this year.”

Tax revenue also remains an unknown for the city. While a substantial amount of additional property tax money is expected to enter the city’s coffers, how much will stay there is still unclear.

“I haven’t put a pencil to possible losses from tax tribunal proceedings and things like that could put it the other way, but I see a minimum of $150,000 of new revenue from the tax roll. I see a maximum of $300,000 from the tax roll,” said City Treasurer Robert Valentine.

Valentine explained wide variance in his prediction was largely tied to expiring industrial facilities tax (IFT) exemptions at local businesses. By state law, properties designated as Industrial Development Districts or Plant Rehabilitation Districts can be exempted from ad valorem real and/or personal property taxes for up to 12 years, as determined by the local unit of government. Escanaba has roughly $10 million in IFT personal property exemptions that have expired, but how these companies will report personal property — or if they will retain the property at all — has yet to be seen.

Still, some of the city departments are planning their own revenue increases. As in recent years, residents can expect an increase in their electric bills of less than 2 percent.

Those who use the the Escanaba Marina will also face an increase. The daily cost of a transient slip will increase $2. The cost for longer-term usage has yet to be determined.

Towards the end of the meeting, the council members had an opportunity to weigh in on what they thought the city staff was excelling at and what should be primary budgetary concerns for each department. In addition to continuing work with the county for the sale of the old jail facility and the adjacent parcel owned by the city, the roads were the chief concern for Mayor Marc Tall in the coming year.

“I’m going to want to do a lot of streets. The streets are not getting any better and the longer we wait the more it costs. We want to take any money from the state that we can get and dip into the piggy bank again to get a few more (dollars),” said Tall.

Many of the road projects that were supposed to take place during the summer of 2018 were left unfinished or substantially delayed due to a statewide labor dispute. After last year’s projects are completed, the department of public works intends to begin a paving and curbing project on 32nd Street from 3rd Avenue South to 5th Avenue South — a portion of road that is currently gravel — and to line the storm sewer on North 20th Street from 3rd Avenue North to 6th Avenue North.

The department also intends to begin replacing or preemptively treating ash trees in the city to limit the spread and destruction of emerald ash bore beetle. City Council Member Ralph Blasier expressed he would prefer the treatment of trees, and that preventing the beetle’s destruction was one of his priorities for 2019-2020.

Other projects the city departments hope to complete in the coming year include replacing the tennis courts at Ludington Park, replacing the expired fire protection gear at Escanaba Public Safety, upgrade lighting inside the library and outside Center Court, and continuing an ongoing electric pole replacement program.