Gering council sets budget at $34M

During the public hearing on the city's new 2019-2020 budget, Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman explained they were able to close a $2.7 million deficit through significant budget cuts. He said it was a process the city will have to continue in the years to come.

Almost six months of work examining numbers came to a conclusion Monday as the Gering City Council approved its 2019-2020 budget, coming in at around $34.1 million.

The tax levy will remain steady for another year at about 29 cents per $100 of assessed valuation on real property. That places the total tax request at $1,429,271, up slightly from last year’s $1,412,837.

As for utility rates, electric remains the same as last year, while water, sanitation and wastewater experienced only slight hikes.

Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman said when the city’s department heads first developed their individual budgets; they were based on “wants” before any cuts were made. When all the budgets were tallied, the city was running a deficit of $2.7 million.

“Staff was asked to give us all their wants and needs as we went through the budget process,” Kaufman said. “The original number was far above what we could deliver, so we needed to make significant cuts to balance the budget.”

Some concerns were also voiced during the public hearing. Gering resident Mike Brunner said he appreciated discussion on the budget, but agenda items were often passed as a matter of form without much debate.

Brunner’s concern was over raises built into the budget. He said that in a time of deficits, some of the city’s higher paid employees were receiving substantial pay hikes.

Gering Human Resources Director Tammy Cooley had been assisting with developing the budget. She explained that Gering jobs are classified on a job grade-step pay scale that doesn’t necessarily result in pay raises for every step up. The real potential for pay increases is the result of years of service, which the city encourages to retain the best people in key positions.

Council members gave their unanimous approval of the new 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, which will go into effect Oct. 1.

“Staff did a good job this year with the budget in trying to balance wants and needs,” Kaufman said. “We’ve been trying to cut the fat from our budget for the past several years and we’ll need to make some tough choices in the years ahead.”

During their Monday meeting, council members also approved new standard procedures for handling the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects.

City Engineer Annie Folck said that under the city’s current procedure, developers are required to hire their own attorneys to draw up a TIF redevelopment plan as part of the funding application process.

Folck said the procedures were uncovered after the state started requiring municipalities to report their TIF projects on an annual basis.

“When I started talking with staff about old projects, I realized we didn’t have an organized reporting system. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but we were doing it the hard way.”

Under the new guidelines, once an application is made, the city would contract with a law firm to develop the plan, with the legal and administrative costs passed along to the developer.

Folck said the new standards allow for a more streamlined process for developers to apply for TIF funds and get their projects approved sooner and more efficiently. It also gives the city more standardized redevelopment plans because one law firm is doing the work.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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