New City Budget Year Begins Wednesday, July 1 with No Property Tax or Water/Sewer Rate Increases

June 30, 2020
By: Dwayne Page

Funding for construction of a new police department building and the creation of another paid firefighter position are among the extras included in the new 2020-21 fiscal year budget which was adopted on second and final reading Thursday night, June 25 by the Smithville Board of Aldermen during a special called meeting.

The vote was 5 to 0.

After a 25 cent property tax increase a year ago, the city apparently has ample funds in the general budget to operate for the next year. The city ended the fiscal year in June 2019 at $38,235 in the red. By the close of the 2020 fiscal year on June 30, the city is projected to finish in the black by $366,685 and by $394,596 in June 2021.

The largest city spending project is construction of a new police department building.

Although the city general fund is in good financial condition, the water and sewer fund, at least on paper, is a different story.

Water and sewer rates were last increased in 2017 yet the city is about to finish its second year operating in the red which may force the mayor and aldermen to take another look at rates again next year (2021-22) .

According to the budget, the city’s water and sewer fund finished in the hole by $72,748 in 2019 and is projected to be in the red by $164,233 come June 30, 2020. Next year the problem is expected to be even worse finishing at a deficit of $217,013. But those numbers are somewhat deceiving in that revenues are projected to actually exceed cash expenditures next year by almost $550,000 not counting depreciation. However the state requires a utility to account for depreciation even though it is a non cash expense. When the city’s water and sewer depreciation expense totaling $795,000 is figured into the equation along with the cost of a new Ford F150 pickup truck at $28,000 the department is then expected to show a loss of $217,013.

Under state law, if a utility continues to operate at a loss for more than two years and doesn’t address it, the state has the authority to force rate increases to make it solvent. The mayor and aldermen may soon commission a rate analysis to essentially give the basis for a plan of action to address the concern should the state’s water and wastewater financing board become involved.

The proposed budget keeps the property tax rate at 89.9 cents per $100 of assessed value. Current water and sewer rates will be kept at the same level. City water customers currently pay $7.25 per thousand gallons of usage. Rates for customers outside the city limits are $10.88 per thousand. City sewer customers pay $6.75 per thousand gallons.

The new budget also includes funding for:

* A 2% cost of living pay raise for city employees except for police officers stepping to a higher level on the department’s five tier wage scale

*Another paid firefighter position at $31,636 base salary (Plus benefits)

*2 new Dodge Charger police cars: $62,000

*New chipper truck with bed for the street department: $60,000

*New pickup truck for the fire department: $35,000

*$150,000 for street paving

* State COVID-19 grant: $135,774 to be spent as follows :$70,000 for tornado warning sirens, $43,000 for 16 air bottles and 10 sets of turnout gear for the city fire department, $14,000 for city hall roof repairs, $2,000 for two in car radios for the police department, and $5,500 for office computers at city hall.

* Airport: $527,725 grant for obstruction clearing.

* $35,000 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for cost of repairs being made at Center Hill Dam. Under federal law, water utilities permitted by the Corps to draw water from lakes, including Center Hill are required to share in the costs for making repairs. Smithville is authorized to draw from the lake approximately two million gallons of water a day.

Although E911 director Brad Mullinax had requested the city up its annual contribution to the DeKalb County Emergency Communications District by $45,000 to fund another dispatcher position, the city will keep its contribution at the same level of $120,000 this coming year with no increase.