GERING — With the upcoming city budget, Gering residents could possibly see something they haven’t in the past four or five years — a slight user fee increase for some items within the budget.

After department heads met with city council members on Tuesday, it was determined the city is facing a general fund shortfall of about $2.7 million for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Gering Human Resources Director Tammy Cooley served as interim finance director until Renae Jimenez was hired earlier this year. Cooley, along with Amanda Uhrich from her department, have been helping develop the new budget.

“Renae is still new to the job, but said she wasn’t comfortable going into our new fiscal year with that negative balance,” Cooley said. “She said we need to make some changes to make it a positive cash balance and I agree with her.”

Cooley, Jimenez and Uhrich made a number of budget cuts they were comfortable with and then asked department heads to find ways to trim another 10% from their proposed budgets.

Cooley said there will be no increase in electric rates for the 2019-20 fiscal year, but some other city services will be affected.

The stormwater surcharge will increase by 25 cents a month under the proposed budget. Water rates would go up by 3 cents a gallon with a 5% increase in the monthly base rate. Sanitation rates would increase by just over 75 cents a month.

Additional savings might also be realized because the city’s property tax levy is lower this year.

Cooley said there will also be a small user fee increase for some golf rates and for using the Robidoux RV Park. Plus they’re looking at other possible sources of revenue.

“It was suggested we approach the owners of the Western Nebraska Pioneers baseball team about a possible $2 fee on ticket prices for next year’s season,” she said. “We haven’t talked with them yet, but based on average attendance, it could bring in about $70,000 of new revenue for the city.”

Other projects that have already been planned will not be affected by budget cuts. One of them is the quad-field softball/baseball complex in Oregon Trail Park. Funding for that project is already in place and comes from sources other than the general fund budget.

Cooley said that so far, the approach has been positive from department heads as everyone was asked to share equally to bring the new budget back into line.

A public hearing is scheduled during the Sept. 9 city council meeting to discuss the proposed budget and hear public comment. Council meetings start at 6 p.m. in the council chamber at city hall, 1025 P St. in Gering.

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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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