by Terry Rogers
On Monday, May 18 and Wednesday, May 20, Milford City Council held virtual budget hearings to discuss the 2020-21 budget. The balanced budget totals $44 million.
“The FY2020-21 budget constitutes a decrease of $1.5 million, or 3.39 percent, in revenue from 2019-20,” Mark Whitfield, City Manager, said. “Our property tax remains the same at $0.46 per $100 of assessed value.”
The budget includes several street projects included as part of the City’s capital improvement plan. A few years ago, the City reviewed all streets and prioritized them in order of needed repairs. Based on that review, the City needed to earmark $840,000 per year for the next five years to make necessary repairs.
“One way to fund this is with real estate transfer tax but it would take approximately $1.6 million, an amount that would completely take that entire fund by the end of the year,” Whitfield said. “The same is true of Municipal Street Aid. This means we will need to use General Funds to cover the cost of many of these repairs.” Councilwoman Lisa Peel pointed out that the real estate transfer tax fund was currently being used to fund five new police officers which is why it was so low on funds.
“Currently Roosa, 5th and Masten have been completed as part of the Street Improvement Plan,” Whitfield said. “Mispillion, Marshall, McColley and Plum are ready to go out for bid. Fisher will be moved to next year and done with streets planned for that year. The Walnut Street Bridge project is currently in the schematic design phase. Once that is done, we will have a more comprehensive cost estimate. It is our hope to find outside funding for this project and only leverage what is absolutely necessary with City dollars.”
Initially, Fourth Street flooding infrastructure repairs were considered by Council but a grant from county CDBG funding was not received and the project has been placed in the street rehabilitation project.
“We receive Municipal Street Aid from the State which, earlier this year, was supposed to increase,” Whitfield said. “Given the State’s financial situation, I think all monies we receive from the state could be in jeopardy. Southeast 2nd Street was supposed to be paved this fall by the state but, again, I just don’t know where we will be budget wise. What I hear is that there may be some stimulus monies coming in the area of public works, so I want to have some projects shovel-ready when that becomes available. This means I will be coming back with some engineering costs for these projects.”
One project that will not be delayed is the Northeast Front Street TAP project which is federally funded. Since the City agreed to partially fund the project, they must honor the commitment and that cost, $350,000, is included in this year’s budget. Whitfield explained that the federal government had been looking at public works bills, and that history shows public works projects have been instrumental in getting the economy moving.
During the budget hearings, Council members asked if information regarding money in reserves could be provided during the budget process. Councilman Mike Boyer reminded those in attendance that there was no policy to manage reserve funds.
“We keep being promised a plan and two Christmases have come and gone with no plan provided,” Councilman Boyer said. “We just don’t know what our role is in planning the use of reserves.”
Councilwoman Peel agreed, stating that in order to create good fiscal policy, Council needed to have some guidance on using reserves.
“We have always been waiting for a cost analysis of one thing or another,” Councilwoman Peel said. “Now that we have that data, I think it is time we had a policy.”
Councilman Todd Culotta asked if they should wait to approve the budget until there was a policy on how reserves should be handled.
“I would prefer not doing that,” Whitfield said. “We will have a new finance director soon and I don’t think it needs to be part of the budget. But I hear you and I do think we need a policy going forward.”
Mayor Archie Campbell agreed with Council members that a policy was necessary.
“We need to know what is in every reserve,” Mayor Campbell said. “We are always waiting for a cost study, then for Jeff to give us the numbers and then Sandra to give us the numbers. We should be able to just look at the report and see it.
City Council will vote to approve the budget on Tuesday, May 26.