City Council wants a crack at budget savings

Aberdeen City Council members want to take a crack at finding more cuts in Mayor Bill Simpson’s proposed operating budget for next year.

Last month, Simpson introduced a budget that included no major cuts or layoffs and relied heavily on reserves.

Hearing complaints from council members, Council President Kathi Hoder has set a special session of the next council meeting to begin at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 28 about 45 minutes before the start of the regular meeting. The meeting will take place in the council’s conference room on the third floor of City Hall.

Simpson’s proposed $13.34 million budget cut about $160,000 from the original $13.5 million in requests from various departments, but that doesn’t include any personnel or major services. Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood said the budget also defers several hundred thousand dollars in maintenance expenses and other items not found in the requests.

Revenues coming in are expected to be about $12.7 million. That still means the city will spend down reserves by about $652,000, leaving about $3.6 million in reserves at the end of next year.

Aberdeen Councilman Jeff Cook said he’s not happy about the proposed use of reserves. He still is seeking more information on what it would take to expand the city’s 2 percent utility tax to cable television services to generate more revenue.

But given recent efforts to increase property taxes, utility rates and sending a sales tax proposal to the voters, there’s questions on just how much more Aberdeen residents are willing to pay the city for services.

“I don’t think using up our reserves is a good idea,” Cook said.

Hoder said she’s concerned about the use of reserves, too, but doesn’t have any clear ideas to solve the problem. Hoder said she’s open to ideas, but says she generally supports the mayor’s plan.

“I’m optimistic things will improve next year and we’ll get more revenue than our conservative estimates show we get,” Hoder said. “If not, we have an amazing mayor and finance director that can help us steer through this troubled time.”

Aberdeen City Councilman Tim Alstrom says he’s coming prepared in two weeks with some budget ideas of his own. He says he’s been brainstorming ideas, but wasn’t yet prepared to present them.

“We cannot continue to use the reserves as much as we have been,” Alstrom said. “I said before and still agree now that it’s not sustainable.”

Simpson said he’s generally supportive of council members coming up with their own budget-saving ideas and that he did his best with his proposal.