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5/2/2013 9:12:00 PM
City budget grows
By Michelle Charles

After several years of budget cuts due to a weak economy and decreased revenue, the City of Stillwater's budget seems to be increasing modestly.

City Manager Dan Galloway said from 2008 through 2011 city revenues decreased or stagnated, forcing the city's administration to make cuts and put off capital expenditures like replacing vehicles and repairing buildings.

Things began to turn around last year when the City of Stillwater fi nally saw a modest 2.6 percent growth.

This year's growth is projected at four percent, resulting in up to $3.7million more available for allocation.

Galloway said in spite of continuing uncertainty about the economy he thinks four percent is a safe projection.

"We've been very, very conservative and very, very cautious," he said. An additional $1.5 million in savings from the current fiscal year will be added to the beginning balance for fiscal year 2013/2014.

Prior to the recession that began in 2008, the city's revenues could be counted on to increase by at least six percent most years, allowing for five percent budget increases each year.

The recession forced the city to look at its operations to see where saving could be found.

That look led to a dramatic reorganization that resulted in management structure changes and streamlined operations.

Departments looked at their essential functions and found ways to save money by doing things like sharing underutilized equipment and staff.

One example is the Parks and Recreation and Fleet Management departments, which once had separate staffs of mechanics for their vehicles. They now share a joint vehicle maintenance operation.

The city's Operations Group, a management group consisting of department heads that develops the draft budget based on prioritized departmental needs and the overall fi nancial picture, presented its recommendations this week.

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Scott said the Operations Group's proposed budget prioritized additional spending on roads and in a few other areas.

Deferred vehicle replacement and building repairs were also addressed. Scott said the group looked at the city's vehicle inventory to see if some vehicles could be swapped between departments before making new purchases but that wasn't always possible.

The budget also includes replacement police cruisers. The largest proposed increase is a doubling of the Transportation Department's budget, taking it from $3.1 million to $6.6 million.

The bigger budget pays for a comprehensive pavement management system that will expand maintenance programs with the goal of improving the condition of the city's street inventory and extending pavement life.

Parks and Recreation also saw a more modest increase to cover the cost of changing outdated playground equipment at several parks and resurfacing or repairing tennis courts at Boomer Lake Park and Sunset Park.

The budget also includes $1.08 million for a three percent cost of living increase for city employees, who didn't receive pay increases for three years during the recession.

Galloway said the staff has been paying close attention to the priorities identifi ed by city councilors during recent visioning exercises as it developed the proposed budget.

Those priorities include Quality of Life, Safety, Economic Development, Infrastructure, Civic Pride, Innovative Leadership/ Communication and Use of Resources.

Galloway suggested that income from Use Tax revenues that no longer have to be paid to Oklahoma State University should be earmarked for economic development.

He said the agreement that originally led to the city giving OSU the first $600,000 in use tax revenue was meant to spur economic development through the expansion of Gallagher Iba Arena.

The remaining balance would go into the city's general fund as has been the practice in the past. The councilors asked for time to review the proposal before discussing it in depth.

Mayor John Bartley also said he'd like a list of the capital items from last year's budget that weren't done along with explanations of why they weren't done and where the money allocated for them is.

"I like the emphasis on fi xing what we've got and getting what we need," he said. "I know I need some quiet time with the feet propped up."

The council will reconvene in a special meeting during the second week of May to discuss the budget in greater depth.

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