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Hacking away at budget

Used leaf vacuum to save city thousands

SOLON– Snip, snip, snip.
In just over a week, the members of the Solon City Council hacked approximately $170,000 from the projected 2013-2014 budget.
In a special meeting Jan. 9, and again during a regular session last week, the city took the scissors to non-essential budget requests, attempting to narrow the gap with an unanticipated drop in valuation for the upcoming fiscal year.
With undeveloped commercial property in the Fox Ridge subdivision adjusted back to agricultural values, the city is facing a $2 million drop in property value, or $180,000 less in its general fund, for the 2013-2014 budget year.
That put $177,000 in additional budget requests on the chopping block.
At the special budget session Jan. 9, council members met with representatives from city departments and began the process of elimination.
By the end of the two-hour meeting, council members had decided to hold off on about $135,000 in funding for numerous projects which were on various departments’ wish list.
Just seven days later, at the Jan. 16 council meeting, another $35,000 for a new leaf vacuum was removed, but in this case the city has found a used replacement which can be fit into the current budget.
The timing was fortuitous.
After the first budget session, public works director Scott Kleppe had been asked to check with his distributor about the possibility of finding a used unit.
“Lo and behold, he had this one brought in real recently,” Kleppe told council members. “Six communities have already expressed interest in it.
“It seemed like a very viable option, especially since we’re experiencing budget woes.”
Kleppe asked the supplier to place a hold on the leaf vacuum, pending council action, which was unanimously given. He said the unit came from the community of Wilton and had only 1,000 hours of use.
“What I liked about it is the fact that it’s not $35,000,” Mayor Cami Rasmussen said. “It gives us the flexibility we need in the budget.” And it would give the city to test out the larger piece of equipment before purchasing a new one, she added.
A larger hose will mean less time unclogging leaves, Kleppe predicted, and a mulching feature will allow for more compaction and fewer loads.
The $8,500 for the used leaf vacuum can be split between a capital improvements set aside fund and road use money in the current fiscal budget, noted city administrator Cassandra Lippincott.
That leaves a little over $12,000 remaining to balance the proposed budget.
“It’s getting close,” she said Friday.
So far, the city has eliminated $30,000 for new downtown holiday decorations, $15,000 for a park shelter, $4,000 for the lighting of the tennis and basketball courts at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area, $45,000 for the heating and cooling and of the Timber DOME Lodge, and $10,000 in set-aside funds for a possible splash pad.
Additionally, two other line item requests were cut in half, Lippincott said.
The Parks and Recreation Department had sought $25,000 to cover half of the cost of two new ball diamonds, with the other half to be raised by the department. That amount has been reduced to $12,500.
Likewise, a $6,000 earmark for architectural services to improve the Solon fire station was cut to $3,000.
Likely to survive, Lippincott said, was modest funding for the Solon Senior Advocates. Solon Senior Advocates sought $2,500 from the city to help subsidize the cost of the site manager for Solon Senior Dining, the community’s congregate meals service.
At last week’s session, it was clear not all of the funding cuts were set in stone.
Council member Mark Krall suggested reinstating full funding for the fire department project. Mayor Rasmussen supported the idea of preserving some set aside funds to build toward larger, future purchases.
Solon’s Parks and Recreation Commission had met and reviewed its priorities given the current fiscal restraints, Lippincott reported, and the park shelter (cut) now ranks higher than the ball diamond (reduced).
“Actually, I was glad to hear that,” said council member Brad Kunkel. “I like that project a lot better than adding the two ball diamonds for now.”
From public works director Kleppe’s point of view, the ball diamonds would be more of a need. “Field space is at an absolute premium in this town,” he said. “You just can’t find it.”
He suggested a minimal practice field with no dugouts.
“It’s likely we’re going to need another special meeting next week,” Rasmussen observed early in the discussion. The additional budget session will be held Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 5:30 p.m.