City of Goshen chafing against budget, personnel limitations
Posted: 07/31/2013 at 3:40 pm
By: Nick Wesman
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Goshen firefighters work at the scene of a January 2012 fire. City department heads told council members at a retreat Tuesday, July 30, 2013, that they could use more personnel. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
The retreat serves as an avenue for council members to hear from department heads and from the mayor about what to expect for the rest of the year, and what will be coming down the road.
It’s also a good time to begin thinking ahead for budget season.
In general, the heads of the various city departments said things were going pretty smoothly, that projects were underway or being completed and that the vast amount of time put in by city employees shows their dedication to providing good services for the residents of Goshen.
Between providing updates on their various projects and services, however, many noted that it would be difficult for their respective departments to keep up their pace without adding an employee or two.
After the economy took a downturn in 2008 and coupled with the implementation of property tax caps, city departments had to slash payroll, combine positions or even combine departments, and take any other measures that could maximize efficiency.
Several years later, however, a few of those who spoke Tuesday stated a need for at least one more employee to help ease the burden on the department’s other employees.
“I am in desperate need for additional manpower,” said Police Chief Wade Branson.
Branson said he hoped to be able to add two more officers to the police force in 2014, to return to the level of officers on the roster when he took over his position as chief.
Branson added that the general standard for police officers is an average of 2.3 for every 1,000 residents. Currently, he said, the city of Goshen is operating with only 1.83 officers per 1,000 people.
Fire Chief Dan Sink echoed Branson’s wishes, saying he too would like to add two more firefighters to return to the fire department’s 2007 level.
Other department heads, including Denny Long of the street department, Dustin Sailor with both the engineering department and utilities and Mark Brinson of the building department, all stated they hoped they would be able to add at least one additional employee in the coming year, if not more.
Goshen Parks Superintendent Sheri Howland also said her department was in significant need of assistance.
Howland gave a brief rundown of all the parks department was undertaking, before saying, “It is not possible to continue this pace.”
Mayor Allan Kauffman praised the heads’ efforts to make their departments run more efficiently and stated that Goshen has operated with far fewer employees than many comparable cities.
Kauffman pointed to the fact that without counting emergency personnel, Goshen has 59 employees doing the rest of the work throughout the town.
He argued that perhaps Goshen had been overly conservative over the past few years, and added that some of the positions department heads had requested were already budgeted for 2013, in case circumstances had allowed for a new hire.
Another reason for holding the council retreat is to get an idea of what, if any, additional appropriations may be forthcoming through the rest of 2013 and to gauge what may be requested for next year as preparation begins for the 2014 budget.
To provide a foundation of understanding, Kauffman once again explained the city’s budget would be funded this year, rather than balanced.
Kauffman said the city was looking at spending approximately $1.1 million more this year than they would raise through revenues.
Much of that deficit can be attributed to the fact that city employees received raises beyond the cost of health insurance for the first time in several years.
To combat that deficit, the council agreed in April to move $500,000 from the rainy day fund. At the time, Kauffman said he would be willing to let operating balances take the rest of the hit.
Kauffman also reminded the council that with the property tax caps firmly in place, the city was going to need to look at other ways of raising revenues.
“We’re doing a lot with a little,” he said, leaving council members with something to ponder.
“We understand (tax caps) are here. How do we deal with the consequences of tax caps?”