GERING — Members of the Gering City Council have approved a budget of just over $34 million for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The tax levy remains steady at about 29 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, placing 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.
Mayor Tony Kaufman said the original budget that contained a $2.7 million deficit was based on what the departments requested, before any cuts were made. But since then, the deficit has been eliminated.
“Staff is asked to give us all their wants and needs as we go 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.”
Gering resident Mike Brunner spoke to council members during the public hearing on the budget.
“I appreciate some discussion on the budget,” he said. “A lot of items fly through the agenda and are passed without much discussion. It gives the public the perception this is just a rubber stamp process.”
One of the items he pointed out that was already in the budget for changing the compensation rates for a number of positions within the city. Brunner said as he looked over the numbers, some of the highest paid staff was receiving increases of between 10 and 20%.
“I know you have to be competitive with other cities your size,” Brunner said. “But in a year when we’re dealing with a large deficit, I think it’s bad practice to bump all the pay grades up in one year.”
Gering Human Resources Director Tammy Cooley had been assisting with developing the budget. She explained that Gering employees are on a job grade-step scale that doesn’t necessarily result in pay raises for every step up. The real potential for pay increases are the result of years of service.
Council members gave their unanimous approval to the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, which will go into effect Oct. 1.
City Engineer Annie Folck also discussed developing standard procedures for handling the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects.
“The state has a new requirement for reporting these projects on an annual basis,” she said. “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.”
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.
“What we’re proposing isn’t anything new,” Folck said. “Both Scottsbluff and Alliance are using these procedures.”
Previously, interested developers would have to find their own attorneys to draw up a TIF redevelopment plan. The city would then review the plan before it was forwarded for approval.
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.
“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.”